Hard lessons ignored


The journey to establishing and strengthening strong governance is a long arduous one. That it came without the benefit of a blueprint isn’t a reason to plunder opportunities for the multitude. The basic framework was established in 1978 with a seven-year guaranteed funding from the feds. The goal was to help the CNMI create a strong economic base.

The deal bifurcated into politics and economics where we try to understand the beastly creature of self-government. I seriously doubt that we’ve succeeded in either of the two beyond the formality of the normal election process. Do we have an economic base other than a fickle single-legged tourism industry where “bankruptcy” is the new norm?

Like the sinking of the Titanic, changing Steering Cabin isn’t going to save the NMI from turning belly up. It was on her way down, sturdy and steady! It sank! Aboard a rescue boat we waved “hafadai” to icebergs nearby smiling ear-to-ear. Do we blame Uncle Sam for the fiscal mess, all self-inflicted? Is this why someone wants a new political status commission? Nice try!

Beyond quiet civility, what’s the real fiscal posture of the CNMI government? Specifically, what’s the total deficit versus revenue generation and mandatory fiscal obligations over the next four years? Friends, let’s live and preserve a time-tested ethical foundation found in our culture as a defense against misguided and destructive change!

What’s co-optation?
I must have pricked the curiosity of a lot of people here about the term co-optation. They have demanded an explanation for fear that we may have slipped into a political trap that must be discarded forthwith.

Co-optation is when the elected elite turns servile, acceding to the whims of rich investors even against the will of “we the people.” The boys went to Hong Kong and Macau purportedly on fact-finding missions. Returning, they declared casino would rake in billions. On their way out to expensive “wining and dining” in Macau they simply looked into a mirror declaring, “Deal!” Did you forget we’re most capable of employing reason and analysis?

Was the Macau leg of the trip free? Didn’t it set up a perfect floor to genuflect voluntarily to your new bosses, kneeling as beggars at their feet? Didn’t you sell everything in the amount of $41 million? When you trashed principle and integrity, didn’t you also ignore our dignity as a people? Who granted you permission to barter the cultural heritage of the indigenous people?

Furthermore, the casino legislation became a political hot potato tossed about in hopes of finding an author. It was tiptoed between chambers and signed into law at midnight. The original law was repealed with another version, bowing to the whims of their new bosses. Did they forget that “we the people” are your bosses?

With casino revenues plummeting in Macau over the last year with shares falling by as much as 34 percent per a recent news story in WSJ by Kate O’Keefe, I wonder if the casino architects here are wary of the implications such decline would have on the planned $7.1-billion project.

“Executives and analysts attribute Macau’s sharp reversal of fortune primarily to a crackdown on corruption led by China’s President Jinping. In addition to bringing down many top mainland officials, the sweeping campaign has scared off high rollers and decimated the city’s junket system, they say.” A straightforward view!

Policy of exclusion
About eight year ago, I watched with troubled conscience the open acquiescence of the policy of exclusion of the indigenous people in terms of investments here. Our very own people at the helm have volunteered and reduced our role as simple cogs or servile ignorance watching events unfold from the fence.

A perfect example is Kumho that took over Laulau Bay Resort from UMDA. Politicians co-opted with this group of investors. Our land was leased dirt cheap. The local elite gave the firm a $26-million tax break through the qualifying certificate, including forgiving the $30,000 appraisal cost. Kumho has since sold it to another investor. What’s my point? The permanent host—indigenous people—was conveniently excluded from this investment. This and other major investments like BSI’s never set aside common stocks for sale to the indigenous people.

I know that the public land leased was dirt cheap. Alone, I often recall pertinent query about economic ventures: Development for who? Is it really that hard making the permanent hosts of this archipelago partners in your investments?

Moreover, would any of the major investors ever join the indigenous community so it learns of our ways as a people? It’s called assimilation!

This exclusionary policy has gradually picked up heavier decibels hailing from the voices of discontent of our people. And if you’re a committed NMD perhaps you could share your wisdom with us?

John S. Del Rosario Jr. | Contributing Author
John DelRosario Jr. is a former publisher of the Saipan Tribune and a former secretary of the Department of Public Lands.

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