Gov. Ralph DLG Torres considers vital the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s Public Debt Outlook report on the U.S. territories.
In an Aug. 16, 2017 letter for comments from the Commonwealth government, Torres said the findings of the report were “vital to showcasing the ongoing progress that the CNMI has made toward its public debts.”
Torres added that though the economy was doing well, there is still a “vast need for improvement.”
Released last Tuesday evening, the GAO report noted that though the CNMI economy of fiscal year 2015 was in much better shape compared to fiscal year 2005, its reliance in foreign labor—set to end at Dec. 31, 2019—could impede the Commonwealth’s ability to repay its debts.
GAO was referring to the end of the CW-1 program, officially known as the CNMI Transitional Worker program that has been in place since 2009. The program’s first deadline was set at 2014, but was extended to this coming 2019. As of publication, U.S. Congress has yet to allow extensions for the CW-1 program, however Torres and Delegate Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (Ind-MP) both noted that an extension proposal is in the works.
“… The Commonwealth requests for the U.S. Congress’ serious consideration regarding the transition deadline and the CNMI’s continued economic reliance on foreign labor,” wrote Torres.
GAO also noted in their report that CNMI public debt has plunged 42.5 percent from the period of fiscal year 2005 at $251.7 million to fiscal year 2015 at $144.7 million.
“… The CNMI aspires to sustain its economic viability outside of external debt. The … report gives merit to the CNMI’s steady increase in revenue after 2011 following the growth of the tourism industry,” said Torres, further adding that the report further supported a boost in CNMI tourism following the introduction of the CNMI gaming industry.
According to the GAO report, the CNMI has seen a Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, increase for three consecutive years since 2013. The report also noted that the GDP to debt ratio of the CNMI was at a low 16 percent for fiscal year 2015.