Lawmaker eyes system to pay off govt legal obligations, debts


A bill calling for the creation of a payment system to get the CNMI government’s legal debts and obligations off the books by prioritizing payment of these debts from the lowest to highest amounts is being introduced at the House of Representatives.

Rep. Antonio P. Sablan’s (Ind-Saipan) House Bill 19-142 seeks to enact a “just and fair” payment system for debts of the local government rendered in final judgment or court-approved statement.

Sablan’s bill says that the CNMI government has taken land from owners to use for public purposes such as roads, highways, right of ways, ponding basins, and easements, but that after this taking, adequate and “just compensation” did not follow.

Through legislative appropriation, the bill prioritizes the payment of these debts as follows: debts between $1,000 to $50,000 regardless of the dates of final judgment; debts over $50,000 “based on the date of final judgment;” and legal obligations or debts over $50,000 where there is no final judgment, including legally binding claims and settlements that have been approved by a CNMI court, based on the date on which the settlement was approved by the court and the associated court order for payment.

The bill tasks the CNMI attorney general to compile a certified list of any and all legal obligations or debts of the CNMI government rendered in final judgment or court-approved settlement.

The attorney general will provide a copy of this list to the presiding officers of the Legislature within 30 days after the bill is enacted, the bill adds.

And the attorney general will update the certified list every fiscal year and provided an updated copy to presiding officer of the Legislature.

“This taking without “just compensation” is unfair and simply wrong. It violates the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the NMI Covenant,” the bill states.

“Adding insult to injury, those who have been deprived of their lands have been forced to litigate their claims and wait years, even decades for a resolution.

“Sadly, even those who have restored their claims via settlement or by obtaining final judgments are still waiting for just compensation.”

The bill defines “legal obligations or debts of the CNMI government” to include, among others, adjudicated obligations, including settlement payments, that are due and payment pursuant to CNMI or federal court order, or are due and payable pursuant to final judgment issued by a CNMI or federal court order.

It also includes, among others, debts due and payable under CNMI law, rule, or regulation that is determined due and payable by the secretary of the CNMI Department of Finance or the CNMI attorney general.

The bill excludes debts and obligations that, among others, are debts incurred by entities other than the CNMI government; debt that is subject to legislative approval that has not been approved; and payments for CNMI personnel or operations.

It also excludes, among others, debts of government entries that were incurred without the full faith and credit of the CNMI; “public debt” under the NMI constitution; and debts incurred for matters that are not for “public purpose.”

Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at

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