Marianas Variety

Last updateSat, 19 Jan 2019 12am

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    Saturday, January 19, 2019-3:01:16A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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NMD group has high hopes for lease negotiations

A GROUP of people of Northern Marianas Descent or NMDs is maintaining a watchful eye on Senate Bill 20-35 which will enable the Department of Public Lands to negotiate the extension of public land lease terms by 15 years now that many major local businesses are nearing the end of their contracts.

John O. DLR Gonzales, president of the Northern Marianas Descent Corporation, said the NMDC conditionally supports the law, which was passed by the Senate on Thursday.

John O. DLR Gonzales

“We want to take a step back and learn from the last four decades of public land leasing experiences,” Gonzales told Variety. “Where have we succeeded? Where have we under-valued [local assets]? Where have we sacrificed optimum public Northern Marianas Descent benefits as a result of lack of enforcement?”

Like many NMDs, Gonzales is concerned about public land lease revenue being used to benefit the public as a whole as opposed to NMDs in particular. He hopes that the next round of negotiations will allow for DPL to “better create policies…so that we protect and preserve the original intent of why public lands were left to be collectively owned by those of Northern Marianas descent.”

Moving forward, Gonzales hopes to see the creation of an NMD-led taskforce that will play a role in the new lease term agreements.

“Above all we want to make sure that we are a part of the negotiation process; that we participate, because who knows how to protect the welfare and the interests of the landowners better than the landowners themselves?”

During the Senate session, Gonzales laid out his vision for the new lease terms: A percentage of annual lease profits should be put in a trust fund account for NMDs; lease revenues should be earmarked for healthcare cost support, scholarships for education and job training, and funding for “simple and basic, affordable, energy-efficient, typhoon-resistant homes”; and hotel lessees should adopt “Cultural Heritage Tourism” practices that “contribute to the perpetuation, practice, propagation, promotion and marketing of indigenous Chamorro and Refaluwasch motifs, culinary delicacies…cultures, languages, songs, traditional dances and chants, traditional attire and customs, arts and crafts, and cultural demonstrations to visitors.”

“We definitely want to work with them,” he said of DPL, “and develop this policy in tandem so that everybody wins, and it’s efficient, it’s effective, and it’s an optimum use of our resources and time.”