Vice speaker disappointed with OPM


House of Representatives vice speaker Janet U. Maratita (R-Saipan) expressed her disappointment yesterday when the Office of Personnel Management requested that the Legislature first confirm the intent and funding ability to retroactively address employees stuck within-grade during the financial austerity measures of the early 2000s.

Maratita expressed her sentiments in yesterday’s House Ways and Means Committee meeting.

She said she was “disappointed” with OPM’s response to her Aug. 30, 2017 letter requesting for a list of all active and inactive employees whose within grade increases, or WGI, were frozen due to the financial austerity measures and a list of active and inactive employees who were promoted but whose salaries remained.

A letter dated Sept. 12, 2017 from OPM director Isidro K. Seman in response to Maratita’s request said that although he supports the intent of Maratita’s House Bill 20-120, which seeks to retroactively address the salaries of employees whose wages got stuck, he also warns of the financial repercussions of such a bill to the CNMI government.

“…I must strongly urge a prior in-depth review of the financial consequences of a full retroactive payment of all WGI due from the freeze on WGI’s from 2002 to 2015 and the other related increases,” Seman said, referring to the other related increases as a possible 5-percent frozen bonuses for those who reached Step 12 as a result of the WGI, claims for merit increases, and reallocation and promotion increases.

Seman estimates that payment amount to be “in the range of $15 million to $20 million with a significant pending current and future budget increase.”

According to Seman, the herculean task, which was to be done manually, would be impossible to do by the end of the year. In his letter, Seman specified that it would take at least six months to accomplish and that OPM could not start the project as of the letter’s writing in September 2017 due to the pending salary schedule conversion and the closeout of fiscal year 2017 at the time.

“This is not a simple task and cannot be done in a short space of time. It involves a manual review of every civil service employee file from the year 2002 to present,” he said. “A listing cannot be provided at this time of all active and inactive employees who were affected by the freeze of the WGI benefit.”

Seman also said that the task would require the involvement of five to 10 more times more people to address the concern due to the manual processing of information.

Citing these reasons, Seman requested that the Legislature “confirm their intent and funding ability for this project” before OPM starts working on the project.

In an interview, Maratita told Saipan Tribune that she believes the burden of seeking the proper funding to address the retroactive payments was a concern of the Legislature and not of the OPM.

“I’ll worry about the funding,” Maratita reportedly told Seman in a meeting early September 2017. “I spoke with Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and he assured me that if [the situation] calls for his intervention, he would make sure that the department would assist,” Maratita said, adding that the information from OPM was necessary for the discussion and passage of HB 20-120.

“Even if it’s going to take six months, I’ll wait,” said Maratita, adding that there are constituents constantly contacting her regarding the matter.

According to the vice speaker, she have not met with Seman to discuss the matter since receiving his letter.

Due to the lack of information, the House Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously to set aside H.B. 20-120 and seek official comments from the OPM regarding the bill.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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