The Saipan Higher Financial Assistance has accrued a substantial amount of unpaid bills for utilities as a result of a miscommunication with the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.
To date, the program owes CUC over $22,000 in unpaid obligations for its water and electricity usage dating back to 2004, the year when SHEFA was established. The amount is inclusive of the late charges assessed in the past eight years.
SHEFA administrator Merissa S. Rasa confirmed that the $22,000 debt covers unpaid bills from 2004 through 2011. She revealed that based on CUC records no payment was ever been made to the agency.
SHEFA is a program under the auspices of the Saipan Mayor’s Office. Rasa revealed that previous program administrations were made to believe that its utilities will be shouldered by the mayor’s office only to find out later that SHEFA has a separate account of its own.
She said it was only in 2011 when then administrator Henry Hofschneider found the deficiency and started, little by little, to pay the unpaid bills. SHEFA has an office located at the government’s MIHA Housing in Garapan.
According to the new administrator, SHEFA is now addressing the unpaid obligations with the help of the Department of Finance. She disclosed that on top of the monthly bills it pays CUC, a minimal amount between $100 and $200 is being added for the “past account.”
“We sent up a memo to Finance which allocates certain amounts (for the past account) just to show that we’re paying,” she told Saipan Tribune, adding that the additional payment is also sourced from SHEFA’s operating budget of $100,000 in fiscal year 2014.
SHEFA administers three scholarship programs: grant in aid, field of study, and incentive program which is allocated $3 million each year. For the program’s operation and all others, additional $100,000 was earmarked to pay for the wages of its two staffers and other needs.
Saipan Tribune learned that SHEFA’s utility expenses average between $400 and $500 each month. But in the last few months, the bill had jumped to $1,500 monthly due to busted water lines. Rasa said that these leaks have recently been addressed.
Comments to bills
Also last week, Rasa disclosed that the SHEFA had submitted its comments to two specific bills filed in the House of Representatives.
SHEFA, through its board chair Josephine Sablan, expressed support to House Bill 18-178 which proposes to establish the Related Service Providers Scholarship.
“We do support this bill. However, I would like to recommend that that if there are no vacancies at the Public School System when they return, then they should be able to work under the following places such as health care corporation, private clinics, or open their own private practice here in the CNMI,” stated Sablan’s correspondence to committee on education chair Rep. Roman C. Benavente (Ind-Saipan), adding that it cannot expect that PSS will always have funding for these positions or have vacancies available upon graduation.
For Senate Bill 18-33, which proposes to amend 1 CMC 8442, and other purposes, SHEFA board chair had this to say.
“If this is a move to promote skills to increase the local workforce, then perhaps consideration should be given to give the waived salaries to NMTI (Northern Marianas Trades Institute) or other trades/vocational schools which promote various trades that we need. If there really is a commitment to increase the local workforce, then there should be some emphasis on skills that can be attained through a trade school setting because not everyone is meant to pursue a college degree,” added the SHEFA board chair. (Moneth G. Deposa)