Kia’aina: Islanders’ voices will be heard in DC

Posted on Oct 16 2014

Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Esther P. Kia’aina visited the Governor’s Office and Legislature yesterday and her talks with Commonwealth leaders had one overarching theme—she will do everything in her power to make sure the voices of the U.S. insular areas will be heard in Washington, D.C.

Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Esther P. Kia’aina talks with former Commerce secretary Sixto Igisomar at the Governor’s Office conference room after meeting with acting governor Jude U. Hofschneider early yesterday morning. (Mark Rabago)

Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Esther P. Kia’aina talks with former Commerce secretary Sixto Igisomar at the Governor’s Office conference room after meeting with acting governor Jude U. Hofschneider early yesterday morning. (Mark Rabago)

Kia’aina, who was born in neighboring Guam and is making her first visit to the CNMI in her new position, said she will make sure that the CNMI’s concerns in far-ranging issues like militarization of Pagan and Tinian, the proposed divert airfield on Saipan that the CNMI opposes, and unfulfilled promises with regard to the Marianas Trench Marine Monument, submerged lands, among others, will reach the federal government.

She said the Department of Defense is still completing its environmental impact study on the suitability of either Saipan or Tinian as an alternative airfield for Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. Comments are due on Oct. 24.

“The [acting] governor assured me this morning that the CNMI will continue to express its opposition to the divert airfield on Saipan. I clearly will take that into account as we provide our own comments,” she told reporters after meeting with acting governor Jude U. Hofschneider.

She believes that with regards to the federal and territorial relationship, not just for the CNMI but for all U.S. territories, it is imperative that the Office of Insular Affairs listens to what people on the islands have to say.

“If in fact the CNMI government is united, all of the mayors and the governor, then we will make sure this voice is heard,” she assured.

Kia’aina reiterated her promise to help echo the CNMI and other insular areas’ concerns to policymakers in Washington, D.C. in a meeting with members of the Senate and House of Representatives just before lunch yesterday.

“It’s clear to me that in just the 48 hours I’ve been on island, it has crystalized more the complexity of issues that impact a small island environment and the passions of the people are no different than anywhere else in the U.S. mainland. It’s my role to ensure that no matter the distance from Washington, D.C., that they have a voice on top of their congressional representatives to make sure the United States understands their needs,” she told reporters after meeting with Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), House Speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), and Reps. Trenton Conner (Ind-Tinian) and Richard Seman (R-Saipan).

The morning meeting with Hofschneider also revolved around how OIA can help in the economic development of the CNMI by addressing other issues bogging it down.

“It’s not surprising that economic development of the CNMI is a high priority and in order to achieve economic development, a multitude of issues needs to be discussed including labor and immigration, protection of our environment, energy developments, and CIP projects, especially for critically important issues like ensuring that the hospital is up to par to providing for the healthcare needs of the CNMI community.”

She said Capital Improvement Project grants and other federal funding streams are already in place and the real issue is how to work with the CNMI government to implement the funding that is provided.

“The top issues are the closure of the Puerto Rico dump as well as ensuring the hospital’s maintenance needs are implemented and we’re deeply concerned because we’re concerned about the potential cutoff of federal funding for the operations of the hospital. I view a lot of the issues as intertwined. You cannot think about CIP funding in isolation. You need to think about the impact it has on the operations of the hospital and consequently the impact on healthcare for the CNMI community.”

Kia’aina is also expected to visit the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, Northern Marianas College, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., Commonwealth Utilities Corp., Department of Land and Natural Resources, and tour the American Memorial Park, among other activities.

Kia’aina will also fly to Tinian to meet with Mayor Ray Dela Cruz.

The Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas carries out the administrative responsibilities of the Secretary of the Interior in coordinating federal policy for the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and administering and overseeing U.S. federal assistance to the Freely Associated States of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau under the Compacts of Free Association. The Assistant Secretary executes these responsibilities through the Office of Insular Affairs.

Mark Rabago | Associate Editor
Mark Rabago is the Associate Editor of Saipan Tribune. Contact him at

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