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    Wednesday, November 20, 2019-2:38:03P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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OPINION | ‘There’s a lot of work being done by good people in government’

The following is the text of the remarks delivered by the author during the Rotary Club of Saipan meeting on Nov. 5, 2019 at the Hyatt Regency Saipan.

GOOD afternoon everybody. Thank you so much to [Rotarian] Irene [Holl], [club] president Marcia [Ayuyu] and the Rotary Club for inviting me here today. Standing here, it feels a bit like a press conference.

Kevin Bautista

I want to save some time for questions from you all, some of whom are leaders in this room that I look up to that are active and engaged, wanting to make a difference and are eager to know what’s going on in Capital Hill and at the governor’s office, and if there’s another typhoon coming because your friend or cousin Whatsapp’d you a picture from the Windy app.

I want to start by sharing with you a little bit of how I got to the governor’s office and a little bit of what I’ve learned in my own experience like dealing with idealism and cynicism and about the success and fragility of progress.

I didn’t grow up thinking I would pursue a career in politics or government. I really got into this field by chance, taking a shot and running with it.

In college, I interned in D.C. for a federal agency and an NGO and fell in love with the city, wanting to come back. But then I remembered that I was a recipient of a CNMI scholarship and SHEFA money and that I had to come back home. Funny, we just had a proclamation earlier this morning for scholarship month, and all we were talking about was compliance and making sure people came back home to serve.

To be honest back then, I really wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of moving back home. I started out here as a political outsider, and I didn’t know where to begin or how to start. After weeks of applying to a few government offices, nothing was working, and I felt like I didn’t have the right last name to even be considered.

Then my mom told me to try applying for the governor’s office. I didn’t like the idea at first. My first thought was growing up under not-so-good conditions. But then I took a chance and did some research.

I immediately went to a coffee shop in Michigan and started researching about the CNMI government back home. I’ve been away from home for so long that I didn’t know there was a young lt. governor with a unique story.

I didn’t have his email address, so I just went another way: social media. I messaged him on Facebook, framed it as a cover letter, and sent him my résumé. It was the most informal thing I’ve ever done professionally.

When he messaged me back, I learned right away that this guy was no ordinary politician. He was someone you could talk to. Forget the formalities. He just wanted to get to know who I was and what I could do.

Ralph Torres gave me that opportunity to serve my community. He didn’t care about my last name or who I knew. All he wanted to know was what I could do to help create policies to better the lives of every person who calls these islands home.

These last few years, we really focused on reaching out to the private sector, folks in this room, to listen to your ideas and create solutions to some of our islands’ most complex problems. We knew we couldn’t do this alone.

As many of you may know, we have a lot going on in our islands. This past year has been tough, but in the last year, because of our partnership with leaders like you, we were successful in pushing the NMI U.S. Workforce Act to extend our immigration transition period and save our businesses. We forget now, but our economy would have collapsed and destroyed our progress, but by coming together, we did something about it. Government and people in this room, we did it together, and we thank you all for your help.

Last year, this administration called for its second 902 consultation in four years to once again fight for our economic survival. And in a time of political divisiveness in Washington, the governor and lt. governor successfully secured our tourism industry through constructive conversations and data.

And of course, we are still working our way out of the damaging effects of Super Typhoon Yutu.

We all know it hasn’t been perfect. Our economy was in shambles for the first few months, and it affected government revenue, and ultimately our budgets. We’ve had to go into austerity and funding cuts had to be made.

But I can tell you that the goals and recovery priorities we have in place through the work being done with FEMA, the Department of Finance, Office of Planning and Development, the U.S. Economic Development Authority, and with various agencies, we are laying the groundwork for a future where our economy is back on track, our students will no longer be in classroom tents, but in state-of-the-art facilities that will be the best schools in the Pacific, and brand new permanent homes that will be built to last.

We have been hard at work to get our economy back on track and on new initiatives to make things easier for our community to conduct its daily business.

Later this month, we will finally see the first Japan-based air carrier provide daily flights between Tokyo and Saipan since 2005. After several months of planning, Skymark Airlines will officially begin daily flights on November 29, 2019, marking the strongest return of Japanese visitors to the Marianas in years.

The Department of Finance projects that the Skymark daily flights will renew our Japanese tourism and the return of Japanese investments to our islands. Governor Torres, Lt. Governor Palacios, and Secretary of Finance David Atalig met with several investors while in Japan that are interested in doing business on Saipan, now that Skymark is flying daily flights.

Finance reports that collections are on target in its 1st month of collections based on the FY 2020 budget projection. This is about $18 million. This is a positive sign, and we’re hopeful that this trend continues especially with Japanese tourism coming our way.

The administration has been partnering with FEMA and its Public Assistance program to speed up document processing of Super Typhoon Yutu FEMA Reimbursements, which will help replenish our general fund. The Secretary of Finance has been working at minimizing our expenditures to ensure we spend within our current budget.

Finance has announced an RFP to upgrade and replace its outdated and inefficient financial software and hope to have new software improve its processes and provide more online services to its taxpayers.

Speaking of online services, the Office of Planning and Development has a new website opd.gov.mp. They are encouraging residents to fill out its community survey so that we can get more ideas for Garapan revitalization and development.

The Office of the Governor will be launching a brand-new website soon with up-to-date information on our policies and press releases written by me.

And our departments and agencies are communicating better, are more transparent than ever before, and are doing their jobs to the best of their ability.

There’s a lot of work being done by good people in government.

Yes, I understand government can be inefficient, and at times, it may be difficult to maintain idealism, and cynicism is a logical response to everything negative you see on the papers or on Facebook about a problem that can’t be solved.

But the truth is that as long as institutions like government, business, and media are led by humans with all our flaws and imperfections, they will frustrate and disappoint us at times. Cynicism is one response to this reality.

You can be a critic, who throws rocks from the sidelines because it’s easy and requires little creativity, or you can choose to be a part of the progress through collective action and constructive conversations. Cynicism isn’t the only response to our flaws as an island community. It’s a choice, and it is just as much as a choice as service to others like the Rotarians in this room.

We have a long way to go, but there is progress, and ordinary people are making it happen. However fast or slow, I promise you that needle is moving forward.

It’s people in government, in the private sector, in nonprofits, and in volunteer organizations like this one that despite our shortcomings and flaws, we chose to move forward with the goal of bettering the lives of our community.

And if we can understand and appreciate that it takes a home, a village, an island, and a community to build on this progress, we will find that it is easier to believe that we will recover and build a stronger Marianas for the future.