Marianas Variety

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    Tuesday, July 17, 2018-11:10:31P.M.






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Editorials 2017-September-22

A wide open box

MVA is funded by the hotel occupancy tax collections.

Early in 2013, the tax rate was raised by 5 percent to fund tourism promotion. With tourist arrivals finally improving after years and years of decline, the funds “earmarked” for tourism promotion have also increased. In 2015, lawmakers took a bite out of the MVA funds, prompting then-Governor Inos to say, “Will it open up a new Pandora’s box? If they can redirect $2.5 million of tourism funds this year, can they do $3 million or $5 million next year?” He approved it anyway, saying that MVA’s budget cut would fund DPW’s streetlights, the purchase of X-ray machines for Customs, and cleanup and beautification efforts. These, he said, were tourism-related. But he added that such “redirection of funds could have detrimental effects on tourism and could jeopardize the government’s credibility with the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands when implementing increases in the hotel occupancy tax in the future.”

Last year, lawmakers tried to get a portion of MVA’s funds again, but Governor Torres line-item vetoed the provision, saying that it could “negatively impact the operations and activities of MVA.”

This year, however, the Legislature is again proposing a reduction in MVA’s budget.

Two takeaways from this issue: 1) an increase in arrivals allows MVA to further promote the NMI and make it more attractive to tourists; and 2) laws that allot specific funds for specific purposes can always be ignored or changed depending on the political needs of the elected politicians on the hill.

Eternal vigilance

GUAM’S legislative ethics committee came out with a report that stated what was painfully obvious: Sen. James Espaldon violated the ethics code when he lobbied on behalf of a company, GPSM, that was trying to sell an over $11 million power generator to CUC. One of the company’s executives was his former chief of staff who is also related to the then-CUC board chairwoman who notarized the company’s articles of incorporation. Another then-CUC board member was GPSM’s registered agent, and his son was also on the company’s payroll.

According to the Guam ethics committee, GPSM, its president, Amellia Toelkes, and her husband, Robert Toelkes, paid for the Guam senator’s meals, airfare, and other travel expenses in at least one trip to Korea and several trips to Saipan during the negotiation for the power generator purchase. Espaldon “knew and in any event should have known that GPSM and Robert and Amellia Toelkes sought to use his influence as a senator in order to influence CUC.” Moreover, the committee said, Espaldon “failed to consider the public’s perceptions of his actions” which “reflect poorly upon his office and his colleagues.” The committee wants Espaldon censured and stripped from his leadership positions. In addition, he and his staff should attend 16 hours of “refresher ethics in government program.”

While Guam senators should be lauded for looking into an ethics complaint against one of their colleagues, it was actually a CNMI lawmaker, Ed Propst, who filed it after conducting his own investigation. We should also remember, as Propst himself pointed out on Wednesday, that both houses of the CNMI Legislature condemned the procurement fiasco. It had to be stopped. And it was, thanks to public officials like Rep. Ed Propst.

More grandstanding please

SENATOR Paul A. Manglona believes that PSS is not getting its constitutionally mandated share, which is 25 percent, of the government’s revenues. He said the government could be in “a very difficult financial dilemma in the near future if we are compelled by the courts on the 25 percent calculation.”

One of his colleagues replied that Manglona should have raised his concerns during the committee meetings — when no one from the media was around so he could be ignored. The Senate president, for his part, said there was no need for “grandstanding” which can be defined as “saying things in public that could make us look bad.”

We need more grandstanding in the session halls of the Legislature. And if the powers-that-be don’t want to look bad, they should stop doing things that make them look bad — like stiffing MVA or PSS.