NMI strangled by historic debt


It’s troubling the persistent upward spiral of government debts of over a billion dollars today. You add two huge numbers in the current deficit of some $369 million plus the $700 million unfunded liability of the Retirement Fund. You pile up other significant obligations and planned pension obligation bond of $120 million plus $99 million in interests. It gives you a glimpse of the fiscal impotence of the CNMI of over $1,189,000,000.

As though unbridled spending isn’t a dangerous habit, the CNMI incurs more debts via deficit spending with stunning attitudinal normalcy. Would the local government ably meet the $45 million annual commitment for retirees under the settlement agreement or do we defer to divine providence? How do we resolve the fiscal mess with paltry revenue of $135 million? Isn’t this what’s known as reckless spending?

It’s easy to detect the scarcity of visionary leadership at a time when it’s most needed. Sadly, it’s nonexistent. But we have followers aplenty pushing the wagon wondering why the wheels have gone off and rolling quickly elsewhere.

It doesn’t leave much room for optimism doing preliminary ocular review of deficit spending as the cost of living increases, flooring villagers all over the archipelago. Would intercession of some sort help us navigate our sinking canoe that could no longer find safe fiscal port? How much longer must we endure the Fourth of July fireworks in the increase of living in February?

The economic dystopia—where nothing works—is largely attributable to the lack of a thoughtful road map the CNMI could use as it tries to move the needle of growth forward. In short, we’ve failed to plan FOR eventualities, taking preference to planning BY what happens today. Well, here we are drowning completely underwater, fiscally. We continue spending unhindered, only to dig a deeper and larger hole. What’s next?

With a huge debt that consistently piles up by unbridled deficit spending, it doesn’t present opportunities for the restoration of the 25-percent cut in pension pay, ease the 40-percent increase in pension plans, help those who had to cancel health insurance policies, or help villagers who’d be slammed hard with increase in the cost of basic goods soon. Yet, there’s a plan to load up more debts via pension obligation bonds. Doesn’t make sense, does it?

Answer: Anchor investments

There’s the obvious disconnect between the public sector and private industries. The unifying agent is a thoughtful and organized plan involving all key players. The agent of change is the collective leadership rallying behind a blueprint to move forward.

Tourism has started rebounding. More hotels are slated for construction with focus on higher paying group of tourists. It’s a step in the right direction. It means inviting international brand hotels to the islands. Hyatt is the only one here today.

As we move forward, can the arcane CUC power system support additional hotels, businesses and residential expansions beyond dillydallying with exploratory work on solar, nuclear, and geothermal sources of energy? Would it eventually deliver affordable and reliable power? Or would the complete opposite occur when we all must endure constant power blackouts? It’s clear it doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to do anything decent so why can’t this agency be privatized?

Other anchor investments are in the periphery. Do we welcome them to our shores so we begin rebuilding the woeful fiscal posture of the CNMI? Isn’t it time that we fast track wealth and jobs creation? Isn’t it true that thousands of our people are jobless today? Would not anchor investment trigger higher paying jobs that gradually fosters equal playing field or standard of living when the ship of economic opportunity lifts all boats? Would not anchor investment provide stability on investment, steady and sturdy revenue streams?

The CNMI is faced with other substantive issues it must address and resolve. There’s a need for the eventual establishment of NMC into a reputable four-year institution capable of leading research and development. Such work would eventually translate into policy decisions based on mega analysis. Are we prepared to move in this direction?

Moreover, let’s say that we wish to manufacture a certain hi-tech item for sale at the global market. Would it not be true that the investor would critically review our educational system to see if in fact we produce students who excel in math and science? It is for this reason that I’m saying the work ahead is far more critical thus the dire need for realistic sets of plans. We can’t continue second-guessing our future. We must buckle down to defining it from A-Z.

This is just the tip of the iceberg among the list of major issues we must resolve for posterity. It boils down to defining our future on a realistic basis beyond village signs, cockfights, and the prohibition of drying panties in Garapan.

In troubled paradise

The journalistic tool of detachment has granted this battered son the opportunity to exit contentious issues by humming in soulful fashion, Lullaby and Good Night. It is relaxing and opens up another bright new morning to reset buttons or put issues into contextual perspective.

I relish the opportunity listening to fever-pitch assertions for more self-government while the very government before us has gone belly up—bankrupt. It’s fodder for comedy quizzing who missed what—did I miss anything or are events unfolding factually nonfiction? It’s an interesting query all the way around where more airheads are talking, nobody’s speaking or listening.

There’s despondency as night comes around for another restful evening watching comedy on television. It’s the only way to retain sanity. The next day I had to dismiss the less significant focusing on what really matters. A wonderful hobby treading the failed promise of “better times” in seriously troubled paradise.

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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