Spotlight focuses on length of public land leases

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Rep. Donald Barcinas believes that the people of the CNMI should get the good value out of the public land leases. (Bea Cabrera)

As tourism continues to be the economic driver of the CNMI, foreign investors continue to keep an eye on the islands to see if it makes sense setting up business here.

A local businessman once said that many U.S. restaurant chains wants to open shop on Saipan, but the problem was the shortage of the labor pool. The workforce problem was addressed when House Resolution 5956 or the Northern Marianas Islands U.S. Workforce Act of 2018 was signed into law in July this year by President Donald Trump.

The law raised the CW-1 visa to 13,000 and extended the foreign worker program, called the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program, through 2029.

Another challenge that foreign investors is looking at is the prolonged pendency of Senate Bill 20-25 that seeks to extend the lease of public lands from 40 years—25 years with up to an extension of 15 years—to 75 years—40 years with up to a 35-year extension; it is still under review by the Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development and Programs.

The hotels that have expiring leases on public land are Hyatt Regency Saipan, Fiesta Resort & Spa, Kanoa Resort, Pacific Islands Club Saipan, and Coral Ocean Point Resort Club.

Rep. Donald Barcinas (Ind-Saipan) said that public lands are the best resource of the CNMI. “Leasing out public lands to quality foreign investors is good for the economy and the people. It’s a rare resource that is valuable to our people and people must get good value out of their land.”

“I am for foreign investment but only the quality investors that would invest here properly. Those investors that will not negatively impact the existing infrastructures and the overall condition of the environment. The hotels with expiring leases…have proven their worth. They have helped build the economy and given people jobs. We should prioritize the investors that have been with us over the years for this will be a good example for future investors,” he added.

Last Sept. 30, longtime investor Kan Pacific Saipan Ltd. ended its 40-year-old business with the CNMI due to the non-renewal of their lease by the Department of Public Lands. KPI owned the Mariana Resort & Spa, including the Mandi Asian Spa, the go-kart racing facility, and the Mariana Country Club golf course. They were also in charge of operating the public swimming pool.

In a statement released by KPS last month, it stated that the terms of the request for proposal released by DPL were not feasible for them to submit their own bid that could have extended their land lease. Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC was the lone bidder for the Marpi properties.

Barcinas said that in the event he gets a seat in the House of Representatives again, he would push for changes in how public land leases are administered. “I want a law that is decisive and consistent with how we manage public lands. To do this, I don’t think that the fiduciary duty should only be lodged on one person such as the DPL secretary. Do we want a DPL with only the secretary having the fiduciary duty and the people’s public land all in one hand and that you can negotiate by yourself?” he asked.

“It would be better if DPL has an elected board like the Public School System, a governing board like the [Marianas Visitors Authority] and Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.,” he added.

Bea Cabrera
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.

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