Buenas yan hafa ada, chairman Francisco M. Borja of the Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development & Programs:
This is to submit our letter to oppose the intent of the Senate Bill 20-35 that was “floor introduced” by Senate President Arnold Palacios on March 22, 2017, Senate session. A 75-year lease on public land is too long and definitely against the interest of the beneficiaries of all public lands. The amendment bill is entitled: To amend 1 CMC § 2806(c) to increase the term of public land leases up to 40 years plus an extension up to 35 years for a total 75 years; to authorize existing public land leases to be amended to extend the existing lease term up to 75 years; and for other purposes.
Foremost, we want to share our concern that a magnitude of such legislation failed to be pre-filed and be available to a wider audience to provide the public ample time to review the context and intention of the legislation prior to formal session introduction.
This type of legislation impacts the core mandate of our policies and disposition of public lands that bore responsibility toward the beneficiaries. We must continue to be cognizant that one of the fundamental values of our agreement with the United States of America under the Covenant that established our relationship is the disposition of public lands.
We should also be cognizant that the intention of the terms of both public and private land leases as enumerated in the former U.S. High Commissioner’s communication (former United Nation Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands – Micronesia) reiterated that there shall be no lease beyond “one generation.” Additionally, the Covenant that established our government recognized the importance of land as fundamental natural resources of the Chamorro people, the aboriginal and only indigenous people of these islands. This was one of our fundamental guideline.
It is our hope that the beneficiaries are promptly and properly engaged through public hearings and forums in the CNMI and elsewhere to hear and receive comments and recommendations on the intentions of Senate Bill 20-35. It is our fervent hope that the members of the Committee on REDP thoroughly and carefully review and evaluate the impact of this legislation on our people, especially on the future generation of beneficiaries; and our limited resources—land.
We humbly recommend that the Senate Committee on REDP is given an opportunity by the Department of Public Lands to review all public land leases from inception of the Commonwealth government to date.
The Senate Committee on REDP must be able to evaluate the number of public land leases that has morphed into new lease agreements; e.g. Saipan Grand Hotel, now Kanoa Resort; Royal Taga Hotel, now Diamond Hotel; Saipan Inter-Continental Hotel, then Dai-Ichi Hotel, now Fiesta Resort; Continental Hotel, now Hyatt Regency Saipan (Portopia), Imperial Pacific International, Honest Profit International, etc. , including public lands golf courses Suwaso Corporation dba Coral Ocean Point, Kan Pacific dba Mariana Resort and Spa; Kingfisher Golf; Laulau Bay Golf Resort, etc.
The proposed legislation compared the CNMI’s 40 years lease terms on public land to other Pacific Island nations such as the Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia where land leases that range up to 99 years are available.
However, this kind of lease scheme is not new to the CNMI because there are at least three 100 years lease terms, FDM, Tinian and Tanapag Harbor – with the United States government. The CNMI still has at least 60 years remaining on these leases, which has some detrimental impact and impediment on both social and economic development for our people of the Commonwealth.
As a member of the Tinian and Aguiguan leadership and a resident of the municipality; I am sure that you have first-hand experience on the negative impact and frustration of the long-term leasehold interest of the U.S. Military lease of 2/3 of the island; and in trying to adjust and balance the needs of the residents and community.
We strongly recommend that the committee withdraws from any further deliberation on the legislation; and instead perform a joint House and Senate hearing with the Department of Public Lands for a comprehensive analysis that will provide a clear overview on the status of all public land leases; a survey of available public land; status of homestead and agriculture homestead; including history of lease and fees payments received by DPL; funds withheld by DPL in all financial institutions; and funds remitted to MPLT for investment; including funds transferred to the General Funds for legislative appropriation – this will, hopefully, achieve a balanced guideline for both the beneficiaries and the investors. It is unfortunate that this bill is a legislation that is guided and centered on investment driven policy only.
To this end, the ultimate goal is to ensure that transparency and accountability must be shared with the public, most importantly, the beneficiaries who are the sole owners of all public lands.
In closing, we want to continue to remind all of us of an Indian proverb especially our Chamoru leaders, like yourselves—who have a direct link to these ancestral lands—“we don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” And it is our obligation to ensure that we uphold ourselves to this responsibility as caretakers and safe-keepers of our children’s heritage.
I remain humble and look forward to hearing from the Committee on REDP on future public engagements to discuss positive options to this proposed legislation.
Liana M.S. Hofschneider
Matua Council for Chamorro Advancement