First of a two-part series
Editor’s Note: The following is being published in two parts due to its length. The second part will be published tomorrow.
Dear Gov. Torres: Thank you for recently saying in an interview that you welcome criticism and posed a question to the public, especially your critics, in which you said, “What’s your solution?”
Now that you have asked, is it possible to answer your question with you accepting this criticism and taking it to heart, without having to hear from your highly paid political advisers who lack the humility you try to exemplify? To date, have you asked your DPS Commissioner Robert Deleon Guerrero to apologize for his explosive behavior at the Ways and Means hearing when Rep. Tina Sablan asked questions about the 11 officers who were unfairly furloughed? Because we have yet to hear one. The questions related to nepotism and unfair hiring and firing are valid complaints that were brought to the attention of several members of the House. Based on his answers, Commissioner Guerrero admitted to not following Civil Service rules and regulations on furloughs. What is the solution to this, governor? You can ask for an independent audit on the furloughs and the hiring practices of immediate family members.
As for solutions to what is going on right now?
For starters, you could visit the villages and see the real pain and suffering happening right now. While you were away for two weeks with Mr. Robert Arrington and friends and family visiting the Northern Islands, the people who elected you as governor were getting evicted from their homes, and trying to figure out how to pay for their power and water, and even put food on the table. Hunger and homelessness are real problems that must be addressed immediately.
One solution is to push for disaster food stamps, as was distributed after Yutu. If this is not possible, then please divert some of the COVID-19 funds to non-profit organizations like Empty Vessel Ministry and Karidat and Salvation Army to replenish their food banks so they can help feed families right now.
As for businesses struggling right now, please utilize COVID-19 funds as Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero did. Instead of increasing fees and taxes on businesses trying to survive, let’s consider tax breaks or the lowering of fees. Every bit helps, and the government needs to do its part to help these businesses survive. If you can give carte blanche to Imperial Pacific and the casino industry and give them everything they have ever wanted and the kitchen sink, then you can do the same for small businesses, which are the backbone of every economy.
With regard to your two-week vacation to the Northern Islands, you most certainly are entitled to a two-week vacation, because everyone needs some time off. But what you are not entitled to is using local taxpayer funds to finance this vacation/promotion. If you honestly believe that this taxpayer-funded vacation is going to bring in high-end tourists that will spend millions of dollars in visiting the Northern Islands because they watched a YouTube star’s video, then have I got some beautiful prime property to sell you on Farallon de Medinilla.
Speaking about FDM, let us not forget that it has been used for bombing target practice by the military since October 1971. In 1983, the U.S. government signed a 50-year lease with the CNMI for a measly $20,600 while continuing to drop bombs on it. That equates to about the same amount of illegal overtime one of your Cabinet members made in three months for lifting boxes, or performing some other impossible feat that apparently no average front-line worker could do. But I digress and apologize.
While the vast majority of us islanders are pro-military because we love America and democracy and understand that freedom isn’t free and comes with sacrifice, what we are not so fond of and unwilling to sacrifice is the desecration and destruction of our limited natural resources. Our land in the Commonwealth is scarce and sacred, and we do not want it bombed or polluted. We have an obligation to protect Pagan and every island in our Commonwealth.
While we welcome Mr. Robert Arrington back to the CNMI and thank him for promoting our islands, I would hope he could meet with some of our protectors of Pagan and guardians of Gani to explain the harmful, long-term effects bombing has on our ecosystem, because when interviewed, Mr. Arrington had this to say about the military and our islands:
“I think the military will help make it [Pagan] better. They will want to protect it and they will want to make it better…and they will want to clear the runway and the marina, whatever needs to be there, I think they will be behind that.”
I highly recommend he meet with concerned community members who have made it their life mission to stop bombing and the destruction or taking of our precious natural resources. They have a lot of data and history they can share with him.
Gov. Torres, for the record, when I have guests visiting from off-island, I entertain them and will take some time off to do so, so I can understand your two-week vacation. But I don’t use federally funded boats and equipment and supplies to do so.
During the House Ways and Means Committee meeting with DPS Commissioner Guerrero, I was fortunate to be able to ask some questions as a non-member of the committee. Commissioner Guerrero admitted that there are only three DPS boats for Saipan and only two are operational because one is not working. Governor, there were two DPS boats that escorted you and Mr. Arrington and family and friends on this trip.
When I asked if this had impacted emergency operations for Saipan by taking these two boats, the commissioner said that they were not stationed there and were used for bringing supplies back and forth and that the boats would leave in the morning and come back in the evening, and that each way took six hours.
But if it took six hours to get to Pagan and six hours to get back, and probably a couple of hours to refuel and rest and prepare for the ride back, you are looking at about 14 hours of any given day that Saipan did not have high-speed search and rescue boats available in case someone went missing in our seas. This creates a problem.
What I also found out was that, while DPS had to furlough 11 employees because of the huge budget cuts, it was DPS that had to fund its own fuel and salaries and overtime for the DPS boating safety crew who went on this two-week vacation to provide safety and security. This trip was never budgeted for DPS, yet DPS had to absorb the costs. Is this fair to DPS, especially to those who were furloughed? Just the cost of fuel could have easily paid the annual salary of at least one of the 11 furloughed. Since you asked for solutions, I highly recommend you use some of the MVA money you used for this trip to pay for all fuel and all overtime and salary costs and any other incidentals paid for by DPS. This would be truly appreciated.
With regard to PUA and FPUC, our people need answers. The 10 numbers listed are nearly impossible to get through, perhaps due to the sheer volume trying to call in. Those who are qualified for PUA and have been waiting so long to receive it currently have no source of income and no way of paying bills. Fortunately, PUA will supposedly be paid out this week, but what about all those who are ineligible for PUA? Can you explain to them what help is available right now? I have recommended options but given the vast resources at your disposal, you may be able to provide better solutions, but would it be possible to work with the Saipan Chamber of Commerce in promoting a temp agency that focuses on temporary work for those who are actively seeking employment? Just about any job could help right now.
To be continued tomorrow.
Edwin K. Propst (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Edwin K. Propst is a member of the House of Representatives in the CNMI Legislature.