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Last updateFri, 28 Jun 2019 12am







    Thursday, June 27, 2019-11:58:08A.M.






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NMD group leader: ‘We deserve to be heard’

TINIAN — The president of the Northern Marianas Descent Corp. said they deserve to be heard, and they want to be part of the development that CNMI leaders are pushing for the islands.

John Gonzales said they are not against the proposed land-lease extensions for hotels, but they want to hear what the investors can offer that will benefit NMDs.

Speaking during the House session held here on Tuesday, he said for the past 40 years, NMDs have not directly benefited from the government’s land-lease agreements with hotel investors.

Gonzales urged the House to conduct a public hearing so other NMDs can voice their concerns.

He noted that the House Committee on Natural Resources received Senate Bill 20-35 in Nov. 2017 but has not yet conducted a public hearing.

Gonzales said despite “much correspondence” with the committee chairwoman, Rep. Alice Igitol,  his group has not received a response from her.

He said it is time that the owners of public land — the NMDs — are given the chance to hear the investors’ plans.

Introduced by Senate President Arnold Palacios Senate Bill 20-35 will extend the current lease term from 40  to 55 years.

Gonzales said the bill should include a provision establishing a trust fund account for royalty dividends that will be distributed to all NMDs who register with the Commonwealth Election Commission.

“We are not asking for too much. We just want to be heard, we just want to listen to what the investors are going to offer that would benefit us directly,” he said.

Tinian resident Juanita Mendiola said if the leases are to be extended for another 15 years, the NMDs should be given a share of the profit or they should become co-owners of the facility.

She said funds from the profits must be deposited in a trust fund that can be used for medical referrals or the education of NMDs.

In her remarks, Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands president Gloria Cavanagh thanked the House for moving forward with the bill which she said is critical to the tourism industry and the local economy.

She said the CNMI struggled economically for many years, and it is only recently that the economy has improved, allowing the hotel industry to see a return on their investments.

Through the years, she added, hotel investors such as the E-Land Group, which owns Kensington, PIC and Coral Ocean Point, as well the Tan Holdings group and the Hyatt continue to make donations and give back to the local community.

Click to enlarge
Rep. Edwin Aldan, standing, gestures as he speaks during the House session in the Tinian courthouse, Tuesday.  Photo by Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

Alex Sablan of Tan Holdings urged the House to pass the bill and continue the momentum of the recovering local economy.

He said it is not true that NMDs are not benefiting from the leases. He noted that revenues from the land leases are invested by the Marianas Public Land Trust for the benefit of NMDs, and the taxes paid by hotels, their employees and vendors, among whom are NMDs, allow the Legislature to fund several programs that benefit NMDs.

Speaker Ralph S. Demapan said the committee chaired by Igitol has adopted a report recommending the bill’s passage.

He said they will act on the bill in their next session on Saipan to allow other NMDs to comment on it.