Igisomar lits a fuse on Tang
Joyce Tang, trustee of the NMI Settlement Fund, pushed the fund’s interest on lawmakers yesterday requesting government payments be at an equal weekly basis and not “by the end of each quarter” as is now, hinting at an “ask” for legislation to mandate such a payment schedule.
Tang, accompanied by fund lawyers, gave a presentation on the status of the Settlement Fund to senators and representatives yesterday, more than two months after lawmakers passed emergency measures to allow the government to meet unmet pension payments when the Settlement Fund refused to disburse and return funds that the government had reprogrammed because they were “not appropriate” and not an “authorized appropriation.”
Tang, during the presentation and later to reporters, emphasized the impact of regular payments would have on the “depletion date” of liabilities owed and paid out by the government, which was projected at 2019 yesterday.
“We are not trying to meet that depletion date, we are trying to avoid the depletion date,” she said. “That is the purpose of this presentation. I have confidence that this body, the representatives and the senators, will do the right thing by the retirees and very simply to help us get regular payments and ensure we get regular payments in the course of the year.
“That will go a long way in helping the retirees…pushing out the depletion date,” Tang said. “Just from the responses and reactions of this body, I am confident that they will do that the right thing.”
Still, when asked if she wanted to see this formalized in legislation, Tang said, “That is up to them.”
“I can’t tell them how to do their jobs but I certainly asking for their help and their support,” she said.
Pressed for a position on Tang’s request yesterday, the administration of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said they were “open” to discuss such measures.
“I am extremely pleased with the positive partnership we currently have with the Settlement Fund,” said acting governor Victor Hocog in a statement yesterday. “I find that there is room for the Settlement Fund, the Legislature, and the administration to openly discuss measures to ensure the continued propitious payments to our retirees and survivor beneficiaries.
“Governor Torres and I commend Secretary Larissa Larson for ensuring payments are made on time, and I look forward to work with the Legislature and the Settlement Fund Trustee Ms. Joyce Tang on continuing this positive partnership,” Hocog added.
All appeared well in the presentation yesterday until Sen. Sixto Igisomar (R-Saipan) aired some concerns of constituents, directing questions to Tang like “how are you spending my money?” “how much are you being paid Ms. Tang?” and expressing concerns that the Fund would up and leave and “disappear” after liabilities owed—over $700 million when first negotiated—in settlement agreement were paid off the projected depletion date of 2019.
Igisomar, a former board of trustees chair of the Settlement Fund, also expressed yesterday that a lot of the concerns Tang raised yesterday where concerns he had raised to deaf ears of lawmakers.
“I understand your personal view but I don’t think you are accurate,” Tang said, in response. “First of all…there is no finger to point at. We need to move forward so sitting there complaining about what they could’ve done and what other people have done—is not going to change where we are today.”
“Let’s look at the facts…There is an obligation for the government to pay that money [75 percent] of pensions. If the minimum annual payments are not paid, then there is a judgment that can be executed on. That means we can go after the general fund. That is not the position that the government” or “the Settlement Fund want to do,” she said. “But it protects the retirees. You talk about protecting the retirees—that—is protecting, the ultimate protection. Because the retirees—all these years before the formation of the Settlement Fund—had no guarantees, no consent judgment, no one saying this money has priority. No one coming here and saying look, how can we guarantee payments? So it is better for the retirees.”
Tang challenged Igisomar to go “take a poll” of the retirees, on the issue and said going forward she was willing to talk to anyone to make sure retirees are protected. “That has always been my goal…Payment? You want to know how much I get paid? It’s audited by the court. The court reviews it. It’s approved. The court takes four to six months to get paid. That’s not normal. I do this because I like what I am doing. I do this because it is the right thing to do. And that’s the only reason why I do this job. I am happy to work with you, but I want to make sure with you that you understand that I will always put the retirees first. I don’t have a political agenda. I don’t have a personal agenda. And I don’t have any money agenda. You want to bring in a million dollar person…go ahead. Go ahead. That money is better spent for funding the retirees’ pension. But go ahead. I don’t know how you’d justify it, but that’s the government’s money. I want to do my job. I will report to the court. I am always transparent….all of the information is posted on a website. What we get paid, our budget, how much money gets paid to the retirees? What’s going on with the investment? That is all online. Everything. It’s reviewed and approved.”
“Let me make it very clear today: if you have an issue with my doing my job, I am happy to address it but I will tell you this. I will do everything I can to make sure the retirees get paid. I don’t know about this rumor that once you get paid in 2019 or whatever that we are out of here. That is not the case. That’s when the retirees need us the most. To make sure we stay on top of the government and make sure that 100 percent…because they are a hundred percent dependent at that point for funding.”
“They need someone like us to make sure that money is being paid because we are going to be pay as you go basis then. So I beg to differ,” she said.
Igisomar responded by thanking Tang for not “beating around the bush” and putting her statement to floor, saying it was what he wanted to hear.
“I’ve never been accused of beating around the bush,” Tang said.
Reports on the status of the fund, among other reports, are provided regularly at nmisf.com.
Responding to questions during the presentation, Tang said their audit was completed for the last four to six months but noted her disagreement with their auditors, Ernst and Young, that the assets of the fund were part of the CNMI government.
That doesn’t make sense, she said, because of the fund’s “creditor relationship” with government.