The second quarter of the current fiscal year is taking on a brighter sheen for the CNMI economy, said Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, signaling that the Commonwealth is getting back on track after being sideswiped by the ferocious winds of Super Typhoon Yutu in October last year.
That’s making the Torres administration confident that CNMI revenues would pick up in the coming months. He pointed out that the CNMI’s economic activity relies on the tourism industry, and last week’s inaugural flight of Japan’s Skymark Airlines gives a strong boost to efforts to revive the economy.
“While we already have losses in the first quarter, what we’re doing now is looking at our projection getting into the second quarter. And we’re gaining resources, but not to the level where it [compensates for] the earlier losses,” said Torres.
He did not cite specific numbers as they are still waiting for the new report of the Department of Finance for the second quarter of the current fiscal year that ends later this month.
He added that his administration is looking to submit to the Legislature a proposed budget for the CNMI government’s operations by April 1; acting Finance secretary David Atalig has already projected a 4.7-percent shortfall in revenues.
That’s why, Torres said, he encouraged the government’s two other branches—the Legislature and Judiciary—to implement their own cost-containment measures.
“Obviously, we have a current reduction on our budget. I just sent a letter to the Legislature and Judiciary to inform them about it. Also, to the respective agencies and departments that we fund, to let them know that they need to make their own cuts of up to 15 percent.”
He added the 15-percent cut is across the board as per Atalig’s recommendation. “And we’re still at a loss and we don’t want to wait until the end of the [FY] year. So, that’s why we’re making these changes.”
Torres said the reimbursements that they expect from the Federal Emergency Management Agency would also help the CNMI’s current situation, but it will be a long process of getting back the money already spent by the government.
“I believe that we should be getting our reimbursements back in a couple of weeks and months ahead of us. We have quite a few reimbursements that we already asked. We’re working with FEMA on a daily basis to get our reimbursements back as soon as possible.”
He added the CNMI would receive the FEMA reimbursements in portions, as it will all depend on the worksheets and other information that they would provide on the money the government had spent for its relief and recovery efforts.
The administration, according to Office of Management and Budget special assistant Virginia Villagomez, is expecting the reimbursements to reach $210 million. The amount, however, is an estimate by the administration and it could be amended once all the data of the costs for Yutu are all added up.
FEMA’s disbursement committee will also review all reimbursements as it handles all disaster recovery funds. FEMA is the one that handles the federal assistance request and the U.S. Congress would get involve with the funding if there’s a need.
In an earlier interview, Atalig said the estimates could be based on projects that were done like power restoration, and construction and repairs done to schools, the Northern Marianas College, government buildings, and homes. “But not all these projects are completed.”
House Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan) said the administration must be cautious in making any cuts and must show real numbers before making any pronouncements. “If you want to cut 15 percent across the board, show us real numbers.”
“If it is about cutting, you can cut on your end, but remember the [CNMI] Planning and Budgeting Act does not allow you to take over the other branch of government. …In any way these cuts are going to happen…we need to share the burden so that the effects would be less.”