Governor assures administration is spending ARPA funds the right way to revive the CNMI’s economy
Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres on Friday described as “unfortunate” the comments made by Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan’s (Ind-MP) on some parts of his spending plan for the American Rescue Plan Act funds, and assured that he will spend the ARPA money the right way to revive the CNMI’s economy.
If, in fact, Sablan has issues with the administration’s spending plan for the ARPA funds, why did he not put that in the legislation that the House of Representatives had passed on how that money should be spent, Torres asked.
Responding to a question raised during his radio press briefing last Friday, Torres said he, along with the Department of Finance, was given the authority to spend ARPA funds and that they’re going to spend it the right way. He said they are spending the ARPA money in the way they believe is going to help the CNMI economy.
Sablan recently described portions of Torres’ spending plan for ARPA funds as “reckless disregard” of the public treasury. Sablan had stated, among other things, that the CNMI has been spending money on hotels for the Travel Bubble program with South Korea, subsidizing each flight for $45,000 and giving travelers’ spending money. He pointed out, though, that the CNMI got less than a hundred people who took part in the Travel Bubble program.
The CNMI received $481.8 million in ARPA funding, with $141.3 million to be spent in fiscal year 2021 and $340.5 million in fiscal year 2022.
In responding last Friday, Torres underscored the need to market the CNMI and that that’s exactly what this Travel Bubble is. “You don’t just wake up one day and promote the CNMI and expect that we’re going to get 300,000 tourists coming in. You just don’t,” Torres said.
He said with the Travel Bubble program, they are seeing more tourists now. The governor said the Marianas Visitors Authority can share the numbers on what’s projected in October and November.
Last Thursday, the MVA disclosed that because of the Travel Bubble program, they anticipate over 600 tourists from South Korea this month, with bookings to the CNMI surpassing the 600 mark just a week into September.
Torres also stated that he can’t understand why the delegate criticized him for hiring 200 people on Saipan, 50 on Rota, and 50 on Tinian. “That’s what the ARPA funds are for—to spend the money the right way. And make sure that those projects, infrastructure, and priorities are also met,” he said.
The governor said that, with a billion dollars, they are indeed hiring more people as they are having not just the ARPA funds but also funds from other federal programs.
“You just don’t have the capacity for every department to address those fundings,” he said.
Torres said what Sablan is basically saying is that those 200 people that they’re hiring on Saipan and those 100 hired on Tinian and Rota is not the right approach. “I believe in our decision to spend it and the way we’re spending it the right way,” he said.