The Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers made its case about the benefits of the Public Private Partnership program before members of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce during its meeting yesterday at the Hyatt Regency Saipan Ballroom.
GCEA co-chairs Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and TanHoldings president and CEO Jerry Tan were joined by other GCEA members to highlight the role of the PPP program in improving the islands’ tourist sites in the last few months.
PPP combines the experience and resources of the private and public sectors to work on the vision of transforming the CNMI into a world-class destination.
Speaking from the government’s side, Torres said the downtime in the last several months due to COVID-19 has helped his office put things into perspective. “Where is the CNMI at, what is our market, where do we go from here and what is our goal for the next 10 years? At the end of the day, we want to make the CNMI world-class and having the Chamber as a partner moves us in the right direction,” he said.
“Turning the CNMI into a world-class destination is the mission of everyone. …I know it isn’t easy and we are [in] unchartered territory but you made our decisions much easier with your cooperation… our partnership is very critical for the entire CNMI,” he added.
According to Tan, they have been informing different sectors about their projects, accomplishments, and plans. “This is our fifth meeting in recent days. …We have met with the Cabinet members of the administration, board members of the Marianas Visitors Authority, the House and Senate separately and now the Chamber,” he said.
One of the things the GCEA wants to achieve in the PPP is to establish a close working relationship between the government and private sector. Tan said this was already his vision when he was still chairman of the MVA—for the MVA board to create a committee that will allow the private sector to be involved with MVA.
“…We toured around the island like a tourist and we realized how badly damaged many of our tourist sites are from [Super Typhoon] Yutu and some even from [Typhoon] Soudelor. …Now, because of the pandemic, we don’t know when the tourists will come back and it is [incumbent upon] us to present our island in much better condition than what we saw last year,” he added.
Tan said that they started with six groups and it has now grown to 41 groups in just two months, covering 30 sites. They were soon joined by groups like the Lions Club, the Rotary Club, the Korean Association, and individuals and groups who have volunteers coming together with the support of the council. “[We’re all doing] what we must do if we want to welcome the tourists to come back and be a world-class tourist destination.”
The PPP program covers almost the entire island but its main focus right now are tourist sites. “The council plans to put focus next on the village level. The council’s recommendations will only be successful if we have the support of the community. …That’s why we are going to spend time going into the villages, starting with the basketball courts,” he added.
To date, the PPP has worked on the adoption and upkeep of Rota’s Mendiola Park and Airport Road. On Saipan, they continuously improved the Grotto, Korean Peace Memorial, Cowtown Raceway Park, Gilbert Ada Gymnasium, Bird Island Lookout, Beach Road Pathway, the Garapan Core highway medians, Pau Pau Beach, Garapan Central Park, Susupe Beach Park, Micro Beach, Suicide Cliff, Sugar Dock Beach, Airport access road, Ladder Beach, San Antonio basketball court, Tanapag basketball court, Tanapag basketball court, highway signages, and many more.
Tan reiterated that tourism is the CNMI’s strongest industry.
“COVID-19 is temporary but our year-round warm weather, our beautiful nature, and our geographic location compared to many famous destinations…is [our] huge advantage and no one can take it away from us,” he said.
He added that everyone should have a shared vision to make the CNMI one of the world’s best tourist destinations. “The council believes in the future of the CNMI. This is the right time to reinvest and step up. The council is planning for the CNMI’s future as far as 2031 and we know we have to take a lot of baby steps and PPP is a way of accomplishing those baby steps,” he added.