The Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers has reached out to government agencies that play roles in the success of the council’s destination transformation initiatives and ease the process for business development and economic diversification, recovery, and sustainability.
The GCEA, led by co-chairs Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Jerry Tan, met with government department heads this month and presented a summary of the projects the council and its partners have accomplished so far, along with a list of proposals that would help the CNMI go through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
The recommendations include strengthening the Public Private Partnership initiative; creation of a universal garbage collection and an improved power generation system, Commonwealth Economic Development Authority, tourism resumption blueprint, and a visitor’s center; institution of branding requirement for hotels; and streamlining permitting and procurement processes.
“Moving forward with these critical proposals would require top level coordination and cooperation among the stakeholders, including our different government agencies. We’ve seen tremendous support from the business sector and non-government organizations for the PPP program last year amid the pandemic and they have pledged their continued support, so together with the assistance of our government agencies and our federal partners, we look forward to realizing these goals for the benefit of all residents of our islands,” said Torres, who was joined at the presentation by Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios.
The lieutenant governor said that getting input and guidance from various government agencies will be crucial in the timely delivery of these projects.
Mike Sablan, who chairs the GCEA’s Domestic Policy Recovery Committee, echoed Palacios, saying that to get projects off the ground as soon as possible, individuals or companies must be walked through streamlining the processes in permitting, procurement, and contract management. He added that working on fast and efficient processes in these challenging times is the best way to capitalize on the more-than-half-a-billion federal recovery grant funds available to the CNMI from the two super typhoons and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is the right time to stimulate our economy by executing projects as soon as possible to strengthen our infrastructure, rebuild homes, and create job opportunities for our residents. We won’t be violating any laws nor compromise the safety of our people and our environment. We just want to work cohesively so we can rebuild our economy as fast as we can and provide a better quality life for all,” Sablan said.
Meanwhile, Robert Hunter, the governor’s senior policy adviser, said that even before GCEA’s presentation, government agencies have been assisting the council in its campaign and the partnership will just get stronger as these projects progress. GCEA, through the PPP initiative, sought the adoption and transformation of destination sites and other key locations on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota and various government agencies assisted the council and its partners in securing permits for these projects. Some government agencies also participated in cleanup and beautification drives, providing PPP partners with equipment and manpower.
“The administration and respective government agencies and programs have already begun to take significant courses of action to address a number of the agreed-upon plans derived from the GCEA, from engaging in the PPP to revisiting the entirety of the current permitting process. The GCEA has created unprecedented dialogue and working partnership between the private and public sectors in a way that I have not seen over the course of my three decades in public service. We are only beginning to see the results of these efforts, and I expect this partnership and our focused direction, will be transformational,” Hunter said.
Zoning administrator Geri Dela Cruz said permitting processes have been discussed among government agencies for quite some time now, with the ultimate goal of improving services and turnaround time for development projects in the CNMI, while continuing to ensure safety of structures and protection of the islands’ resources. She added that, with the GCEA’s recommendation of having a central database for permit requirements, each agency can have access to documents at the same time, creating an efficient and cohesive system. (PR)