A bill that authorizes the CNMI government to enter into a five-year loan of up to $15 million with the Marianas Public Lands Trust now heads to the Governor’s Office after the Senate passed it during their session yesterday. Gov. Ralph DLG Torres is expected to sign it, since the request for the MPLT loan came from his office.
The Senate, in a vote of 7-1, vaulted House Speaker Blas Jonathan “BJ” Attao’s (R-Saipan) House Bill 21-44, HS1 toward Torres for enactment.
Only Rota Sen. Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) voted against the measure,; Sen. Francisco Borja (R-Tinian) was absent from the session. Manglona’s vote essentially reflected a previous letter he had sent Torres where he raised some issues about the loan. Manglona later told Saipan Tribune that he appreciates MPLT’s effort to help the CNMI government out “but the problem is I wrote a letter June 12, 2019…and nobody is answering my questions.”
In that letter, Manglona asked about the casino business gross revenue tax collections; the $15-million exclusive casino annual license fee; and the annual $20 million Community Benefit Fund the lone Saipan casino has to pay every October.
“…Nobody is talking about it. They are just putting it under the rug,” he said. “…They don’t want to answer my letter and now they want my support? How do I know they need the money when they don’t answer [my] questions?”
Manglona brought these concerns forward during discussions on the bill.
Sen. Teresita Santos (Ind-Rota) said this was the time to act on the financial struggles the CNMI government is facing. “…Now is the opportune time to act on it. This is the Senate’s opportune time to act on this very critical legislation that will perhaps enhance our [economy],” she said.
Sen. Sixto Igisomar (R-Saipan) described the loan as a step toward recovery. “…Yutu really devastated us,” he said.
Igisomar said the bill is the best solution for now to help the CNMI government, to help the Department of Finance, and to help the CNMI recover from Super Typhoon Yutu.
Senate President Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota) said that he’d avoid debt as much as the next person but it is necessary right now in order for the CNMI to survive.
“…When critical times faces us, critical decisions face us. I don’t like to commit debts, but if that’s the only way to survive…and restore…[and] to recover, then we will,” he said. “We are all gambling to see how we can expedite recovery.”
Sen. Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) reiterated that the CNMI government had also availed of loans in other forms. He noted that both the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. and the Commonwealth Health Care Corp. took up loans with the MPLT.
“I am comfortable and confident to authorize the Department of Finance to engage in this portfolio,” he said after noting that federal reimbursements would take awhile to cover the government expenses incurred in response to Super Typhoon Yutu.
The bill ultimately garnered a vote of 7-1, with Manglona voting against. H.B. 21-44 HD1, HS1 now heads to the Governor’s Office for enactment.