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Editorials 2019-June-07

If only

ONCE again, we’re re-learning that governing is no fun at all if there are not enough funds to run it the way most voters want it to operate — generously.

After four years of an improving economy, it is certainly upsetting to hear that work-hour cuts and other austerity measures have to be implemented, again. But in early 2018, no one, as far as we can recall, “predicted” how exactly the year would unravel — or that two typhoons, one after the other in September and October, would slam into the NMI’s three main islands. To be sure, many of us apparently believe that elected officials should be able to “see” the future. If only. (The author Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls it “our blindness with respect to randomness, particularly large deviations,” or “the human tendency to find simplistic explanations for these events” after they occurred.) But this issue — who or what to blame — is highly contentious because it involves politics, and one’s preferred explanation usually depends on which side of the political aisle we are.

What was “predictable” was that the government would, once again, overspend on medical referrals. So how do you “plan” for that spending item? Should the government tell patients that they can only be seriously sick once a year or preferably next year? Should the government inform residents that the budget for medical referrals is X amount only for the fiscal year, and once the funds are gone, sorry, you’re on your own — and we hope your open-heart surgery goes well, if you can afford it.

Another perennial budget-buster, especially in a group of islands smack in the middle of typhoon alley, is OT pay for first-responders and other public safety personnel. Again, if funding for their agencies are already depleted should they “do nothing” during another natural disaster or a search-and-rescue mission?

Some of those who supported the pay increases for rank-and-file government employees, bonuses for retirees, the hiring of more personnel and increased government spending on critically needed public services and programs are now “complaining” and “wondering” why there’s not enough government funding amid an economic downturn compounded by two disastrous typhoons. It is far easier to take political potshots at the politicians of this administration who are in charge anyway. And hey, politics is politics.

But some officials are so “upset” that they can barely make a coherent statement. One of them indicated opposition to the austerity measures, but added that they should have been implemented earlier. Which would have meant larger pay-cuts that the official supposedly opposes.

The Legislature, unlike most of us, should have access to the government’s financial numbers, and the administration, as far as we know, has been providing lawmakers the financial information they say they want to see such as the government’s FY 2018 financial report and the list of disaster OT payments. But, as far as we know, there are no detailed proposals from anyone on Capital Hill who is expressing concern about the government’s “overspending.” Where are the significant, across-the-board spending cut proposals? Still being drafted?

In a constitutional democracy such as the CNMI, there is an opportune time to hold elected officials accountable, and that is on Election Day. But if partisan politics can’t wait for some of the “extremely concerned citizens,” then the CNMI Constitution also provides them other tools they can use to try to change the leadership.

But for the officials who believe that easing or preventing hardship must be their main concern, we hope that more of them would take their cue from the Saipan mayor and not lose their composure. Real people — hundreds if not thousands of them and their families — are being affected by the government’s financial woes caused by, among other things, an economic downturn; and many of them would want their elected officials, to paraphrase Kipling, to “keep their heads when all about them are losing theirs and blaming it on you.”

The good people of the NMI, however irate they are, surely want to see their leaders work on possible measures that could help everyone instead of just trying to tear the community apart.

In praise of Kilili

THE islands’ congressional delegate, a long-time NMI Democrat, caucuses with the national Democrats whose views on many hot-button issues are unpalatable to those on the other side of the political aisle. (Which explains why they’re on that side.) And yet for the past 10 years as the NMI’s first delegate, Congressman Kilili continues to reach out and work with the Republican members of Congress.

He has won six consecutive NMI-wide elections — a Commonwealth record — and whether you agree with him or not, most voters like him. So far this year, he has managed to include substantial funding for the NMI in a disaster-relief bill, and has overseen the passage of a separate measure that some may say involve a highly contentious issue: immigration. But it doesn’t. The affected individuals, just over 1,000, have been here for a long time and have deep ties with the local community; many have U.S. citizen children. Kicking them out is not “getting tough on immigration.” It’s just mean-spirited.

Thanks to the NMI’s Republican governor, the bill has also secured the backing of the Trump White House. Passage in the U.S. Senate is, of course, tricky. But as the previous U.S. congressional hearing showed, the more U.S. lawmakers know about the geographic/demographic/economic challenges faced by the NMI, the more they agree that the islands have nothing to do with the immigration debates now raging in the U.S. So let’s see.

At any rate, in issues that matter most to the NMI and its local people — their economy, general welfare and access to opportunities available to other Americans — Kilili stands firmly with them.