NMI government faces deeper budget cuts

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GOVERNOR Ralph DLG Torres on Monday said the CNMI government may not have enough funds to pay for its employees’ 64 working hours, which means that more budget cuts may be necessary in light of the continuing decline in tourist arrivals due to cancelation of flights from South Korea.

In an interview with Gary Sword on the KKMP early morning radio program, the governor said there may be a second round of across-the-board budget cuts.

A drastic drop in tourist arrivals in February following the cancelations of flights from China due to the Covid-19 outbreak resulted in the reduction of government work hours to 64 from 80. China is the CNMI’s second largest tourism market.

“Now I am very concerned if we are still able to [afford] the 64 hours simply because there is no revenue coming in,” the governor said.

He noted that as of Monday Skymark Airlines of Japan and Asiana Airlines of South Korea were the only airlines flying in passengers to the CNMI.

Asiana, however, has notified the CNMI government that it will cancel flights for April and May.

“People around the world don’t want to go anywhere because of the outbreak,” the governor said. “Everybody is suffering worldwide, but the people of the CNMI are among the hardest hit because it affects our only industry — we have never seen this kind of situation before.”

He noted that in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yutu, hotels continued to receive guests, especially Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel, contractors, and local residents who received federal assistance.

Today, he said, the hotels have a single-digit occupancy rate.

“That is the reality,” Torres added.

Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, who joined the governor on the KKMP morning program, said if the Korean tourism market shuts downs, it could mean a close to $650 million economic impact on the CNMI or half of the Commonwealth’s entire economy.

South Korea is the CNMI’s top tourism market.

“We will try our best and take a look at what needs to be done and how to get it done. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is, we are all in this. There is no other way to say it,” Palacios said.

The administration, he added, “will probably have to make an unpopular decision on how to address this issue and to keep government services at an acceptable level.”

The House leadership, according to House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan, is ready to do its part.

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