Mayor-elect Atalig: Collaboration is key to Rota’s future

Mayor Mendiola allegedly not cooperating in transition process

It is the oldest conversation on Rota—people talking about change—but seldom does the community see the great ideas of elected officials materialize or the promises made during the campaign trail fulfilled. 

Efraim M. Atalig

Efraim M. Atalig

Mayor-elect Efraim M. Atalig hopes to strip the island’s government of that stigma by collaborating with residents, departments, and agencies to ameliorate the quality of life of islanders in the next four years. 

“Saying we will do things now is not enough, doing is what matters,” Atalig told Saipan Tribune in an interview at his Rota transition office. “Let’s make it happen.” 

So what exactly does the soon-to-be mayor want to happen? From addressing the unemployment crisis to establishing a trade school, Atalig said that by collaborating with his administration, locals can expect to come out of the next four years stronger and better. 

With the GOP dominating the island’s leadership, services and legislations will be “brought to the people quicker,” Atalig explained. “Because of the GOP majority in office, it will be easier to get stuff signed and accomplished.”

Addressing Rota’s issues

Gas prices in the United States have seen a dramatic drop to $1.99 per gallon. In the past month, members of the Rota community have paid for gas thrice the amount of the U.S price. 

In recent months, the price of gas dropped from $6.15 to $6.10 and is now $5.25. 

Atalig plans to ease the suffering of people engendered by the exorbitant gas price by implementing a salary increase when he comes into office. According to Atalig, the salary for government employees hasn’t changes since 1995. 

“Actually when you talk about fuel, there really is not much as a mayor you can do about that because it is being controlled by the market. These people decide based on the global market and there really isn’t much you can do because that really isn’t in your responsibility,” he said. “That is the important thing and it gives us more reasons to increase the salary of the local employees.”

The shipment of food to the island is also a topic of concern for the incoming mayor. 

There has been dialogue amongst Rota leaders about the endorsement of the MV Luta shipping company, but the process was stalled by the delay of certification papers, according to Atalig.

“We have been talking about MV Luta for almost a year now,” he said. “There is a lot of certification to make the ship available for passenger usage as well. In addition to this, we also need to improve the East Harbor and the facilities within the area.”

Atalig and his committee have the establishment of a vocational trade school on Rota in the works as well. The mayor-elect’s department heads met with Northern Marianas College representatives last week to discuss the idea.

With unemployment rates at an all time high on the southern island, Atalig said the formation of a trade school is imperative because it “develops a stronger labor force and opens opportunities for our kids.”

“We have to give them opportunities to excel and decide a career for them rather than just going to college to get a degree. We have to provide options for our youth to increase their knowledge and talents in things like mechanics.” 

Atalig said that he will also work closely with the CNMI Public School System to create more programs to keep Rota youth off the streets and away from drugs and alcohol. 

Introducing a new dental service on island and bringing in more medical professionals is another thing Atalig aspires to accomplish.

“I can’t direct the board of the Rota Health Center, but I will sit down with them and see what I can do to help.”

Although tourism is booming and is the No. 1 industry in the CNMI, the story is different for the Rota community. With the cancellation of flights and limited airplane passenger capacity, several businesses on the island struggle to keep their doors open for the small number of visiting tourists.

Atalig plans to work with Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo to support airlines, such as Star Marianas, that want to increase seat capacity and flights to the island. 

“I will talk with Guam and work with the airport authority to provide the airline company space to operate in Guam as well,” he said.

Although Atalig is optimistic about the tourism industry on island, he noted that the agriculture business is something he will be looking into to help boost Rota’s financial state.

“We cant just depend on tourism. We must diversify our abilities as a community.” 

Rota’s only dumping site in Tatachog also has residents sounding off. The site, overflowing with mountains of trash, has remained in poor shape and government officials have done little to address the issue.

According to Atalig, the responsibility of maintaining the dumping site falls on the shoulders of the Department of Public Work’s Solid Waste division. 

“These employees are hired, but they are not doing their job,” he added.” I am going to go to these people and tell them that they must fulfill the responsibility that they were given in the first place.”

A representative of Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality on Rota told Saipan Tribune that he visited the Tatachog dumping site and found it overflowing with trash and not in compliance with regulations. They took various photos of the dumping area and said that the organization in charge of maintenance is not managing the site well.

The representative also found that a substantial amount of land could be cleared for expansion, but DPW fails to do so.

Stricter management of all departments is what Atalig said he will strongly carry out in his administration. 

With a full agenda for his term as mayor, Atalig said the transition process has been frustrating because of the lack of cooperation from current Rota Mayor Melchor Mendiola. 

Atalig said that inquiries and requests from his transition committee have all been rejected by the staff of Mendiola. 

“This is not about me or him, this is about our people. We want to have a smooth and proper transition but he is not cooperating,” Atalig said. “However, I am still in good spirits.”

Twenty-eight people currently make up Atalig’s transition team and 82 employees are expected to be hired under the new administration.

Atalig said that on his first day on the job, he will gather his staff and visit the different departments on island in order to foster an atmosphere where employees feel free and respected, not intimidated. 

Atalig served as former mayor Benjamin T. Manglona’s chief of staff for six years in 1997. Before pursuing the position of the island’s next mayor, he resigned as chief of staff for Mayor Melchor Mendiola two years into his appointment. 

Thomas Manglona II | Correspondent

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