Last of two parts
Editor’s Note: Continued from yesterday’s publication of the first part.
Another solution is to immediately stop any overtime or double pay that is being paid out to your Cabinet members. You initially said that none of your Cabinet members got paid, but as it turned out, they in fact did. Just put an end to it. The late governor Eloy Inos did not pay out any overtime to Cabinet members after Super Typhoon Soudelor and, come to think of it, neither did former governor Benigno Fitial, because they both knew Cabinet members were ineligible for overtime based on their NOPA and contracts and also on Commonwealth law. Please understand that moving boxes or writing additional speeches does not constitute or validate overtime and double pay. Check with Attorney General Edward Manibusan and read his nine-page opinion on overtime, and also check with the Office of the Public Auditor. What you need to try and understand is the fact that Cabinet members are already paid at least double of what front-line workers make, so it does not make sense to be paying them additional money at a time when the CNMI is broke. And if they are not satisfied with their current salary, they can always resign. There are hundreds of qualified furloughed employees ready and willing to take their place, many of whom have degrees and credentials and the qualifications to lead. Just a suggestion.
Other solutions include:
• Be consistent with the COVID testing and to listen to the experts at the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. If they say that all passengers should be tested upon arrival and on the fifth day and that they undergo mandatory quarantine for those five days, then don’t change it, even if you are being pressured. Yes, we do want to eventually open up tourism again, but it must be done in a safe manner that will not risk the lives of our people.
• Let the Marianas Visitors Authority do its own marketing to tourists while you focus on this tourism timeout to initiate and spearhead the cleanup and beautification at all our tourist sites, from cleaning public restrooms to repainting graffiti and fixing broken safety rails. Also, please ensure that we put up signs in different languages for dangerous tourist spots so that locals and tourists are aware of high-risk areas. Under your leadership, all of this can be done in collaboration with the Department of Public Works and the Office of the Mayor and volunteers.
• Illegal dumping and litter is at an all-time high right now. Consider waiving the tipping fee during this pandemic and encourage people to dump their trash at the transfer station instead of illegally dumping their trash to avoid the tipping fees. Some people will claim that the tipping fee is only a few dollars, but if you don’t have any income, you probably do not have money to pay the tipping fee. Offer incentives for those who do throw their trash at the transfer station and see if companies that are doing well in this pandemic would be willing to sponsor some of the prizes to help incentivize proper disposal of trash. We have tried raising and lowering litter fines and it so far has not done anything, so let’s pitch a different alternative together.
• Work with the Northern Marianas College- Cooperative Research and Extension Education Services and local farmers and gardeners in promoting and teaching how to grow some food crops that are relatively easy to grow. It may not solve the food shortage, but it will help families cut some food costs while learning how to grow food. Rainy season is upon us and is an opportune time to plant.
• Reopen the Northern Marianas Technical Institute with the CW fees that were intended for them. A trade school is needed here. There is a huge shortage of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and other skilled workers in the vocational trades industry.
• Lobby for support of House Bill 21-76, to return the $15 million annual casino license fee back to the retirees. In the 20th Legislature, it was Rep. BJ Attao, Vinnie Sablan, Ed Villagomez, and myself who voted against former representative Angel Demapan’s H.B. 20-99, which became Public Law 20-10 and took away the $15 million annual casino license fee from retirees. Please talk to your chief of staff Angel Demapan and ask him to lobby for this bill as well that passed the House and is now in the Senate, so that retirees will once again benefit from the casino license fee.
• Talk to some of your Cabinet members and tell them to lead with some humility. Humility begins at the top and it is up to you to set the tone and to ensure bullying and ad hominem attacks have no place in your administration. Kindness and humility goes a long way in building relationships.
• Review the furloughed employee list and reinstate those who were unfairly selected because Civil Service rules and regulations were not followed. If a furloughed employee has seniority, exemplary performance, good attendance, and credentials, then what reason were they furloughed, because “loyalty” cannot be used as a reason to furlough an employee.
• Be more accessible. You can start by doing live press releases and interviews on social media and answer questions from your constituents. Your constituents would appreciate hearing from you rather than your press secretary or political adviser.
• Review and consider renewing the Hyatt Regency Saipan lease already. You already had its neighbor, the Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan lease renewed. Why not Hyatt? If tourism is so important to you, do you not know how bad losing the Hyatt brand will be for the CNMI? This could have a devastating impact on all hotels in the Commonwealth.
• Please include the minority bloc in your meetings. The late governor Eloy Inos made it a point to include the minority members during emergency meetings, especially when there were disagreements on policy. He ensured everyone had a seat at the table and listened to everyone. Due to the fact we are still in a pandemic, please allow all members to teleconference in as well.
I hope you take my suggestions or possible solutions to heart, and I apologize if I offended you. Wishing you and your family good health and safety during these most trying of times.
Edwin K. Propst (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Edwin K. Propst is a member of the House of Representatives in the CNMI Legislature.