Citing the lack of information about how much the Federal Emergency Management Agency owes the CNMI in reimbursements, Rep. Edwin Propst (Ind-Saipan) said the people are only getting a snapshot from the Torres-Palacios administration.
“We still don’t know how much FEMA owes us in reimbursements,” said Propst when asked for comments Wednesday about the administration’s austerity measures that will implement a 64-hour work schedule for government employees.
The lawmaker said he has already asked the administration how much has FEMA reimbursed the CNMI so far since Super Typhoon Yutu hit the CNMI in October 2018 and how much does FEMA still owes the Commonwealth in reimbursements to date.
“I haven’t found the answers. I am still waiting for the answers,” he said.
Propst said his frustration is that the administration needs to take that FEMA reimbursement into consideration.
“When we are looking at all numbers and coming up with this report, we need to see everything. But we are only getting a snapshot. That is basically my frustration,” he said.
During last Wednesday’s debate on House Bill 21-104 to eliminate the 30-day grace period for importers to pay the excise tax on good that require Customs inspection and clearance, Propst pointed out that the government is pushing for the elimination of the grace period “because it is important to collect right now.” Yet if everybody is looking at collecting, why aren’t we looking at the elephant in the room?” asked Propst, referring to the Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC, which he said is the biggest corporation that owes the government the most money.
He said it’s great that IPI had already paid, but they still owe the Commonwealth government more money. “If we really want to make things better, and if we are going to go after small businesses to collect from them and every other businesses in the CNMI, why isn’t this administration, why aren’t our elected officials and agencies going after IPI to ensure they pay what they duly owe the Commonwealth?” Propst asked.
He said if the government does collect even one third of what IPI owes the CNMI right now, that would put the government in much better position financially.
Propst said the 64-hour cut that people are seeing right now can’t be blamed entirely on Super Typhoon Yutu and the coronavirus outbreak as there are other factors. He said the CNMI government has had a deficit for three straight years. Even before Yutu came, the government had an $8 million deficit in fiscal year 2017 and almost a $26 million deficit in fiscal year 2018. For fiscal year 2019, the numbers kept changing, Propst said. First, the administration reported it was a $98 million deficit and then they said it was $88 million.
Propst said the administration is now readjusting the number.
“Regardless, whatever the number is, we are still in deficit,” he pointed out.