Editorials 2020-March-27

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Err on the side of caution

THE Covid-19 outbreak is an unprecedented and quite possibly the most serious crisis faced by the NMI since World War II. We’re talking about human lives, and this is why we have to, as much as humanly possible, remain level-headed.

In these difficult, uncertain times it is easy to propose “solutions” when you’re not accountable for the possibility that they may create more or worse problems. All over the world, the authorities are making life-and-death decisions. Governments, to the best of their abilities, are trying to cope with a pandemic that is still spreading.

In the NMI, businesses and members of the public should continue to do their part by following the latest directives that were drawn up in consultation with public health officials. That doesn’t mean that executive orders should be considered divine injunctions. Or that we shouldn’t propose changes that could make compliance easier — but no less safer — for everyone involved.

But in the meantime, we should try to make the current rules work. In Britain, for example, some stores are limiting the number of shoppers in their establishments at any one time while implementing other measures to protect their staff and customers. On Saipan, shoppers, if possible, may want to call their favorite store first to check if a long line awaits them. Perhaps some stores may want to consider home deliveries. Moreover, stores should, among other things, provide masks and gloves to their employees while enforcing safe spacing of customers.

Of course all this is inconvenient. But contracting or spreading Covid-19 is infinitely more inconvenient and could even be fatal for some.

Unbelievable

SUPER TYPHOON Yutu has reminded us that government budget measures are not, and cannot be, set in stone — they are basically a wish list. Budget figures are forecasts that can be rendered obsolete by unforeseen events. The thing with unforeseen events is that they happen frequently, but no one knows when exactly and how exactly they can upend our plans. (Everyone, of course, is an “expert” after the fact.)

Yutu “disproved” the original FY 2019 budget that was signed into law less than a month before “the strongest typhoon ever recorded to impact the Mariana Islands” made landfall on Saipan and Tinian. That budget had to be revised more than once to reflect the declining revenue collected by the government. Before the Covid-19 outbreak, there were signs that the tourism industry was starting to recover. This pandemic, however, has all but killed the islands’ only industry. There are no more international flights to the NMI.

And so now, in addition to the 48% revenue drop announced last week, the administration said another 20% is expected to be reduced from the FY 2020 budget.

Amid this grave financial crisis, three members of the Board of Education are still insisting that the central government should provide PSS with more money based on a dubious definition of what constitutes 25% of “government revenue.”

As one of the more sensible education officials would put it, “What is 25% of zero?”

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