Friday, April 25, 2008

Who Are Our Legislators Really Representing?

Food For Thought 4-25-08

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

No matter how hard I try to ignore the legislature and not talk about them, they just continue to make fools of themselves and beg to be criticized for it. The only real dilemma here is trying to decide where to start this week. I guess the latest attempt by the legislature to legalize gambling on Saipan is the most logical place to start. I know this may come as a total shock to some of you, but gambling is illegal on Saipan. Then why are there more poker places than Tinian has cows you ask? The answer to that is both simple and complicated. The simple side of it is because we have corrupt and moronic lawmakers who had their hands out looking for “campaign donations” when the idea of slot machines was first introduced years ago. Now comes the complicated part, when the slot machines were first introduced they were for “entertainment” purposes only, and you could only win credits on them, no cash. But that wasn’t good enough, some of the gullible citizens thought they could strike it rich if only they could actually have a chance of winning a huge cash jackpot. At least that’s what they were told by the machines owners and operators. So again, the poker industry pimps went up and had a discussion with the legislature and they decided that gambling only involved games of chance. And because there is a certain amount of thinking and reasoning that goes into playing poker, it then became a game of skill, not a game of chance, and therefore was not considered gambling. Seriously, this is the reasoning they incorporated! And thus was born our non-gambling poker industry.

I always thought that gambling was when you bet money or other goods on the outcome of some sort of game, and you had a chance of increasing your initial bet depending on the odds and the outcome of the game. I decided that maybe I should find out what someone else’s definition of gambling was, so I checked Wikipedia to see what their definition of gambling was. According to Wikipedia, “gambling has a certain economic definition, referring to wagering money or something of material value on an event with an uncertain outcome with the primary intent of winning additional money and or material goods.” That’s basically the same thing that I said, only it sounds like it went through a legal department first. So whether you call it a game or skill or a game of chance, it’s still gambling as long as money or material goods are wagered or used. So it’s not exactly a quantum leap to figure out that we do indeed already have gambling on Saipan. But for some, that’s not enough, they figure they could take a lot more of your money if they could take it at blackjack tables, Texas Hold-em tables and a few other select games.

We saw a group gather signatures and put this issue on the ballot in the last election, whether to allow indigenously owned and controlled casinos to operate on Saipan or not. The initiative was soundly defeated. You can argue that people weren’t necessarily against gambling, they just didn’t like the indigenous only angle, but I think it’s a moot point. It was shot down, the people had spoken. Our lawmakers weren’t paying any attention to what you had to say though; either that or they just thought they knew better than you once again. They tried introducing a bill that would seek to legalize certain games of chance for Saipan, to have limited casino operations. Most people were outraged that the idiots on the hill hadn’t paid any attention to the last election, and the Senate promised to kill the bill anyway, because of course Rota and Tinian don’t want any competition from Saipan to their thriving casino industries, and I said that with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. The first time they tried to pass the bill, it was killed, no big surprise.

But I have to admit that even I was surprised when the issue resurfaced again recently. Congressman and former Speaker Oscar Babauta tried introducing it again, with a slightly different spin, saying it would be the economic salvation for Saipan. It might be the economic salvation for someone, but it would probably just be the casino owners and whoever he had to pay off to push the process through. The House voted on the measure this past Thursday and it was soundly defeated once again, 16 voting no, 2 abstained and 2 voted yes. I think it might be worth pointing out who the two Congressmen were that voted for its passage though; they were Oscar Babauta and Stanley Torres. The two abstentions were Ray Palacios and Justo Quitugua. So congratulations on re-electing these two who are obviously so in tuned with what the community wants. I don’t know whether it’s that they don’t listen, can’t remember, don’t care or just aren’t smart enough to read the writing on the wall. But once again they are wasting your money by introducing and supporting legislation that has absolutely no chance of passage whatsoever. The truly sad part is, that you obviously didn’t learn your lessons in the last election, and you’ll forget these lessons before the next election once again, and these two will probably be re-elected once again, although for the life of me I can’t figure out why anyone would want them representing them.

I read where some of the freshmen lawmakers are getting fed up with the way things are done in their illustrious body; I can only imagine their frustration level. And it is my understanding that the House deliberately kills discussion and won’t allow recommendations or amendments from a certain female freshman lawmaker. Do they really believe they’re collectively better off by not allowing her to be heard or to participate? Do they really think that they are the only ones with all the answers? Aren’t they the ones who got us into all of these messes in the first place? Do they think it’s more important to continue recycling defeated legislation than it is to listen to new and fresh ideas? If our hope truly rides on the actions, thoughts and plans of the legislature, we are indeed doomed!

And that brings me to the other monumental show of ignorance recently by this self-important body. The House of Representatives voted Thursday by a vote of 17-3 approving a resolution asking President Bush not to unilaterally declare a marine sanctuary around the islands of Uracas, Maug and Asuncion. The 3 who voted against the resolution were Representatives Tina Sablan, Heinz Hofschneider and Edward Salas. The Senate unanimously adopted the resolution earlier in the week. I realize there are people on both sides of this debate and issue, but honestly those who have come out against it have motives that are more than a little suspect, and their track records are less than stellar when it comes to the environment. I believe it is always a mistake though to take sides on an issue before thoroughly familiarizing yourself with it. After all, how can you vote on something if you haven’t bothered to educate yourself on it? Do you really think that reading a few letters to the editor in the newspaper qualifies you as being properly educated? Did the lawmakers bother to actually find out how the public actually feels about this proposed marine sanctuary? Did they hold any public hearings on the matter before issuing their resolution? Or do they think they have some kind of ESP that informs them automatically what the majority of their constituency thinks about any particular matter at any given time? Again, these supposed “representatives” of the people decided they already knew what you wanted and thought, and therefore they didn’t need to ask you, they would just go ahead and speak for you, whether it represented how you truly felt or not. In my mind the most prudent thing to do at this point would have been to hold public hearings, do some more investigation into exactly what this would mean for the CNMI, and maybe find out how the marine sanctuary in the northern Hawaiian Islands has been working out.

I guess the thing that really upsets me about this is that once again, they didn’t bother asking you what you thought, they didn’t care. If they really wanted to know, they could have found out, and could have given everyone with an opinion a chance to share it with them. But they once again feel they know what is best for us, and that they don’t need or want your input into the matter.

I guess at this point in time I would have to ask, do you really feel you’re getting your money’s worth out of our legislature? Are they worth all the money we spend on them every year? Are they accurately and properly representing you and how you feel about things? Are they introducing and supporting bills and concepts that are important to you, that you feel will improve the quality of life in the CNMI? Are they spending their time productively and showing positive results for it? Are you happy that nearly every legislator, some of the legislative bureau staff and other government employees take numerous hours out of every week to attend every funeral that comes along, whether they knew the person or family or not? If an employee in the private sector wants to attend a funeral, it is usually on their own time, the employer doesn’t usually pay them when they are out on personal business, so why should government employees be allowed to go and then collect their full pay? After all, we all know the real reason they are there is to buy some goodwill and hopefully your family’s votes in the next election. I even heard a Saipan Senator told a colleague that the best way to get votes was to attend every single rosary and funeral that came along. Is that really what we elect them for? Is that what’s important to you? The next time you see them at a funeral, tell them they work for you and to get back to work, this isn’t included in their job description.

Food For Thought is now available online at and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Lack of Responsibility

Food For Thought 4-18-08

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

This past week has been one of the more trying weeks I can ever remember during my 12 years on Saipan. The main reason is that Commonwealth Utilities Corporation told us they had no money to pay for more fuel and they only had enough to go through Thursday. They said if the administration or legislature didn’t come up with more cash to give them, they would have to turn off power for the island on Friday. When you’re in business, that’s the last thing you want to hear, that there will be no power anywhere. So all week everyone on island has been waiting to hear what was happening. Did CUC all the sudden come up with enough cash to buy more fuel? Did the legislature come up with the money to buy fuel? Did the administration reprogram enough funds to keep the lights on for a while longer?

As we read the newspapers every day they didn’t really answer any of our questions, they just seemed to be blaming each other and coming up with excuses. I was hoping that since this was the #1 issue in the Commonwealth at the time, that maybe the Governor would come in Wednesday morning and tell everyone what his plan was and what the status of the utility was. Or at the very least that they would send in the Lt. Governor and Tony Guerrero, the Executive Director of CUC to give us some answers so that we all knew how to plan. But no, even though the Lt. Governor promised me just 2 weeks ago that they realized they had to be much more transparent about the crisis situation at the utility, and they would be coming out in the public to explain it more often, they didn’t come in either. Instead, the administration had the acting director of the Emergency Management Office come in to talk about their plans. Now it’s not that EMO isn’t important, but frankly it’s not what anybody wanted to hear, we all wanted to hear if the lights were going to be on Friday or not. But not one word from the administration or the utility as to the status of fuel to keep the generators operating.

So then Thursday came, the day before the utility told us the lights would be going out if they didn’t come up with more money to buy fuel. The Saipan Tribune didn’t really have any news about the situation at all. The Marianas Variety had a story from the Governor’s Press Secretary saying that the administration would not be giving the utility any money; there was no money to give or to reprogram. Earlier in the week there was a story in one of the papers in which the Governor’s Press Secretary was blaming CUC for their current mess, saying that since they had refused to take the pay cuts last year that everyone else had to take, they made their own mess and no one was going to bail them out now. Maybe if they had taken those pay cuts, they wouldn’t be in the financial mess they are in now. While there may be some truth in that story and those statements, this really wasn’t what anyone wanted to hear. Here we were all wondering if we would be able to keep the doors open for our businesses, and they were still playing politics, pointing fingers at each other. Now this whole thing was beginning to smell like a political power play, and it really stunk.

Around 11 am on Thursday as I was driving up to Mt. Topochou to start our generator for the next power outage, I had Lewie call CUC to find out if they were able to buy fuel or what the situation for Friday was going to be. The person Lewie talked to said they did get a fuel shipment the day before, so that would have been on Wednesday, but it was a secret, and they weren’t allowed to let that information out yet. So at 11 am on Thursday I knew that there wouldn’t be any island-wide blackouts over the weekend due to a lack of fuel, however I still couldn’t go on air and say anything, because I still didn’t have any official notice from the administration or CUC, basically all I had was hearsay, even though it was inside information.

I had a million questions going through my mind at this point, the first of which was, who is lying? The administration said they weren’t going to give CUC any money to buy fuel, and CUC had been telling us they had no money to buy fuel, yet evidently they somehow came up with money to buy another week’s worth of fuel, so where did they get the money, and who was lying about it and why? And why were they keeping this information a big secret? Shouldn’t they be telling people to avoid panic? Shouldn’t they be letting businesses know so they could also plan accordingly? Shouldn’t they be telling schools so they knew if there was any point in opening on Friday or not? What were they waiting for? If they already had the fuel, they obviously knew what their plan was, so what was the purpose in keeping quiet about it for over a day? Was this just another political ploy by the administration or by CUC? The more I thought about it, the more pissed off I got about it. There was no good or acceptable reason to not let the public know what was going on. This was part of some political game, pure and simple, and there is no excuse for it. Whoever was behind withholding this information should lose their job immediately, and I don’t care whether it was the Governor or the Executive Director of CUC. You are now putting political games ahead of the good of the Commonwealth and you need to lose your job for it, it’s really just that simple!

Then I started getting calls all Thursday afternoon from people saying they heard on a radio station that there would be total blackouts starting Friday because CUC had no money to buy any fuel and everything would go dark on Friday. Other rumors popped up on blogs that there would be total blackouts from 6 am to 6 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The rumor mills were going into overdrive and everyone was grasping for straws. Why would a radio station start such rumors without any hard facts to go on? Were they just drawing their own conclusions from what they had read in the newspaper and then stating their conclusions as facts? Was this just simply a case of disc jockeys going too far and creating a public panic? But why would the management of those stations allow them to keep adding fuel to the fire and spreading these rumors? Did they think it was good for their business, to be screaming “wolf” and then watching the public panic as they called all their friends to let them all know the “latest news”? It was completely irresponsible for that station to be saying those things on the air and spreading false rumors, but then again, they have really never been known for taking the responsible route or for being a reputable source for any information. So why would anyone believe anything they had to say on the matter? I guess that’s a question that only those people can answer; I just hope they’ve learned a lesson through this whole thing.

I could have gone on the air at noon on Thursday and said that I had learned through an inside source that CUC had bought fuel the day before and therefore there would be no island-wide power outage over the weekend. But I didn’t have any official notification from the utility, because they were still playing their secretive games. So I waited to go on the air to say anything until 3:30 pm, when I finally received official notification from CUC that they had purchased 3500 barrels of fuel which was another week’s supply. It’s called doing the responsible thing, and not reporting on a situation when all you have is hearsay and rumors. Unlike other stations, I don’t believe in whipping the public into a false panic just to try and make a name for myself, I’d rather wait and just report the facts.

I also don’t understand why a private school principal would cancel school for half a day based on those same rumors and misinformation? But then again there are many things that I haven’t understood in the past, like why we wasted the money to put a float in the Rose Bowl parade. Wouldn’t be great if we had that money right now to give to CUC? But then I guess we wouldn’t have all those extra tourists that came here as a result of seeing our float in the Rose Bowl parade and came here as a result. Oh wait, we didn’t get any extra tourists did we, so I guess it would be pretty nice to have that money right now after all, wouldn’t it?

The topic today is really about responsibility and doing the right things for the right reasons, something that seems to be sadly lacking in the Commonwealth. We have legislators that bought their re-election by lowering the rate that CUC had to charge to their residential customers, even though they knew it would drive the utility to the point of bankruptcy. We have an administration who seems more concerned about pointing fingers at the utility and making an example of them for not taking an across the board pay cut than they do about coming up with the funding for paying for fuel. We have a utility that seems to also be involved in playing the political games by not disclosing that they had come up with money to buy another week’s worth of fuel and there would be no island-wide blackout this weekend. And we have another radio station that is more interested in starting and spreading rumors than they are in getting out the truth and checking their facts before going public with them. I don’t see any examples of taking proper responsibility and doing the right things for the right reasons. If this is what we are going to have to continue putting up with, is it any wonder that Hollywood Theaters is closing their doors? They won’t be the last business to shut their doors and say it’s just not worth it anymore, the only question is, how many businesses and residents will leave before our leaders finally wake up and realize they can’t operate this way anymore?

Food For Thought is now available online at and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Federal Takeover Of Our Immigration Is A Done Deal

Food For Thought 4-11-08

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

As I was sitting at my desk writing my commentary, I got a call from Jeff Schorr who let me know that he was just notified by his office in Washington that the U.S. Senate passed the bill that would federalize our Immigration system here in the CNMI. This is the same bill that the Governor has been fighting vigorously, and that HANMI and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce have sent their representatives to Washington to lobby against. All the lobbying efforts were evidently totally in vain as the vote was 91 to 4; no one cared what they had to say. I have had the feeling for quite some time now that trying to fight against this was like trying to hold back a 20’ tsunami that was rolling up the beach. You can do anything you want, but it won’t matter or do any good whatsoever, it was going to happen for a number of reasons. Whether the bill has to go back to the House or not really doesn’t make any difference, they will pass it immediately, and the President has already indicated he would sign it into law. The federalization of our Immigration program is no longer something to be fought or debated, it is now a fact.

Let’s be honest, the CNMI does not exactly have a very good track record, we’ve gone back on our promises in the past to raise the minimum wage. Years ago our legislature passed a law that would implement increases of the minimum wage gradually bringing it up to U.S. levels. They did this right before we were supposed to go to Washington to deliver testimony to Congress in regards to a takeover of our labor laws and minimum wage. So the Saipan delegation which included business and political leaders was able to testify to the U.S. Congress that we had just passed a law that would raise our minimum wage in incremental stages until it reached the U.S. levels. As a result, the U.S. Congress shelved their plans to take over our labor laws and minimum wage since they believed we were trying to comply. No sooner did that happen than our legislature repealed the law raising the minimum wage, caving in to pressure from the garment industry about the effects raising the minimum wage would have on their industry. We showed the U.S. government at that point that our word and our laws meant nothing and that we couldn’t be trusted.

And our current leaders can’t just blame this whole thing on someone else claiming they had nothing to do with it, many of them were still in office back then. Governor Fitial was in the legislature at the time and several of those serving in the legislature currently were in it then as well.

Then instead of doing the right thing and implementing a plan to raise our minimum wage, we got bogged down in fighting over whether it should be broken down by industry and have different minimum wages for the different categories, or whether we should raise it across the board. Since we couldn’t manage to agree on anything, we did nothing, we just left the minimum wage alone and didn’t raise it at all. Instead we started a campaign of hiring lobbyists to fight off the threat of a federal takeover of our labor and immigration departments. We hired the firm that employed Jack Abramoff, and he became our new savior. He wined and dined the right people, and he even managed to bring Congressman Tom DeLay and some of his colleagues out here on a trip. Ben Fitial was in the legislature at the time and was instrumental in negotiating the multi-million dollar contracts that were used to hire Abramoff’s firms and fight off the federalization attempts. Ben made no secret of his ties to Abramoff at the time, calling him his brother. These actions infuriated certain people like Congressman George Miller who vowed to not let this issue go away, and continued to introduce it in the U.S. House.

The shift of power in the U.S. House and Senate, and the disgrace of former Congressman Tom DeLay, and the imprisonment of lobbyist Jack Abramoff all started an inevitable ball rolling that wouldn’t stop until it brought the CNMI under the U.S. minimum wage and federalized our immigration system. There are many other factors that come into play here as well, including the buildup of military forces on Guam, real or perceived security threats in the region and a system that hasn’t always done a very good job of policing itself.

Whether you agree with the federalization of our Immigration or not, I don’t think many people can argue with a straight face that we haven’t asked for this with our actions over and over in the past. This can simply be considered as the consequences of our actions and inaction over the years.

So what will this really mean for the CNMI, will it be good or bad, will it cost us access to the Chinese and Russian tourist markets? I don’t think anybody can really give you a straight answer to any of those questions right now. There are too many unknowns and variables in the legislation, too many “mays” and “ifs” in the legislation to really get a good read on it. Until the rules are promulgated and we see what really happens with our Chinese and Russian tourists, anything that anybody tells you will be basically speculation.

There is one good thing that I believe will come of this, and that is that it finally ends the uncertainly of potential investors. Now they will know what the situation is and they won’t have a threat hanging over their heads making them nervous above moving forward with their plans. To be honest, it may chase some of them away and make them want to locate elsewhere, but I’m sure there are others who may look at it as a positive development and may be willing to finally pull the trigger on investing in the CNMI. Let’s just hope it’s not too little, too late. The uncertainty of the whole thing has been absolutely killing us for the last couple of years, and I for one am glad that at least the uncertainty is now gone. As for whether it will ultimately be good or bad for the CNMI, we will all have to wait and see together.

It is possible that there might be those who got the impression from my commentary last week that I think all the problems at Commonwealth Utilities Corporation should be blamed on the legislature. I believe the legislature has to own up to its responsibility for the utility company’s current financial woes as a result of their moronic law to lower the rate the utility charges to residential customers. They created a huge mess, and I don’t believe they have ever taken responsibility for their role in it. But let’s be perfectly clear, that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to problems at the utility.

From some of the facts that are starting to come out and come to my attention now, I don’t think there can be any disputing the fact that the utility has been mismanaged for years and years, and our current problems are a compounding of all the incompetence over the years. You may get tired of hearing me talk about the utility company over the next several months, but I truly believe it poses one of the biggest challenges to survival of the CNMI, and therefore it needs to be discussed, exposed and addressed.

When talking about problems at the utility, it’s difficult to know where to start, there are just so many different topics and areas that need to be addressed. One of the first things I guess that deserves to be considered is whether CUC really has to charge as much as they are trying to just because of the cost of fuel? While it’s true that the cost of fuel has been skyrocketing and the cost of power needs to be tied to the cost of the fuel, it is also true that our engines and generators have been so poorly maintained that the efficiency on most of them is at about 40%. Not only does that mean that we’ve had to use over twice as much fuel to operate them as we should have, but also that we’re burning through 3 times as much lube oil as we should. In other words, CUC is throwing away money in fuel and lube oil all because they have not properly maintained the generators. So they could be charging about half as much as they want to charge and still be recouping their costs, if they would just operate the generators as they are supposed to be. They have tried telling me that there is no mismanagement at the utility, but that is just blatantly not true, and there are a myriad of facts to back that statement up.

One of the other things that has been suggested is burning dirty oil, which is much cheaper and would lower the cost of operating the units substantially as well. There are a lot more hoops we would have to jump through with the EPA to make that happen, but it is definitely a possibility, however not one that seems to be seriously considered by CUC. Why did they let our generators get in this condition in the first place instead of keeping them properly maintained? I really don’t believe our generators have been properly maintained for many years, but it is a fact that during the last administration Governor Babauta instructed CUC to stop spending money maintaining the generators since he was planning to privatize it anyway. I guess he might have believed that a private company would put in new generators anyway, so why throw money away on the old ones. There are so many flaws in that thinking I’m not even going to try addressing them all, but if you want to know how our generators wound up in the condition they are in, that’s where the lion’s share of the blame lies. So do you really think he deserves another chance to mess things up even worse? I think he’s going to give you the opportunity to vote for him in the next election if you still haven’t learned your lessons.

But there is also plenty of blame to go around inside the utility as well. They have not run it properly for as long as I can see. Let me just give you one example, Telesource charged CUC about $15 million dollars to build a power plant on Tinian which included an itemized list of all improvements. During an auditors visit many years ago, it was discovered that Telesource neglected to construct a used oil incinerator which was valued at about $350,000 and was listed on the itemized list of improvements to the facility. After being provided notice of the missing equipment, Telesource told them that they took care of the used oil problem themselves and therefore there was no need for an incinerator. There are a couple major problems with this though, #1 – CUC has already paid for the unit listed on the schedule of values in support of their contractual obligations. And #2 – when CUC takes back the power plant, it should not have to incur the cost to have the used oil shipped off island since the incinerator is already listed as an asset of the power plant, and has already been paid for. The cost to purchase and install this equipment would be considerably higher today than it was 10 years ago when the agreement was entered into with Telesource, and there are newer emission regulations in place today which would push the costs even higher. You would think that CUC would be pressing Telesource to purchase and install this incinerator since they are contractually obligated to do so and since CUC has already paid for it, but no, they are not pressing the matter and it appears that they are just willing to let it disappear. That means that CUC will either have to purchase an incinerator themselves after they take over the power plant, or that they will have to pay to have the oil shipped off island. But why, since they’ve already paid to have an incinerator installed? Is that what you consider proper management and oversight?

And the incinerator on Tinian is just one of the many examples of mismanagement and wasted money at this government owned and operated utility. I will be sharing many more examples in the coming weeks of just how bad things have gotten at the utility and of how they seem either incapable or unwilling to run things properly and professionally. Maybe it’s time that the federal government take-over not only our Immigration but also our utility company. Frankly I don’t blame the federal government for not being willing to bail out the utility, why throw more money away on an organization that has shown itself to be incompetent and incapable of running itself in a responsible manner. If there are to be more federal takeovers on the island, I’m praying that the next one will be of CUC.

Food For Thought is now available online at and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The CNMI Legislature - The Root Of All Evil?

Food For Thought 4-4-08

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

I’ve been detecting a very marked change in the last several months, many people are completely losing hope that things will ever change or improve here. Up to this point, many of us believed that things would continue getting worse for a while, but then we would turn a corner and things would actually start to rebound and the worst would be behind us. Things have admittedly been very bad here for quite a while. Corruption is not only rampant, but seems to be encouraged as no one is ever held accountable for their misdeeds, and that is something that many people have just come to expect as a way of life when you live in the CNMI. It’s sad that this has become an accepted way of life, because it shouldn’t be this way, and certainly doesn’t have to be. But it is because people continue to put the same old politicians back into office that got us into all these messes in the first place. They continue to fall for the same old campaign promises and lies even though they have never seen them fulfilled even once. For many years I have been saying that the key to any meaningful and lasting change here is abolish and completely revamp the way our legislature works. But we all know that will never happen because the good old boys are not about to give up their stranglehold on power and actually do something that would serve the needs of the people. This is a lesson now being learned by some of the freshman lawmakers who were just elected last November. I certainly don’t think the legislature is the only place in government that we have real problems, but I do believe it is the heart of the problem that needs to be addressed first.

This past week the Lt. Governor and Tony Guerrero, the Executive Director of Commonwealth Utilities Corporation came in to explain on the air what is going on with the utility, why we have been experiencing so many power outages lately, and the general state of the utility. I know they meant for the talk to be encouraging, as they are in the final stages of rehabbing a couple of the main engines and generators, and once they are back online we shouldn’t have the rolling blackouts we’ve been experiencing recently.

But at the same they were sharing the good news about some of the generators finally being repaired and back online, they told about the utilities inability to pay for a fuel delivery from Mobil later that same day. They told me that CUC had only $1 million to pay for a $4 million dollar delivery. They were hoping that they could either come up with the money from somewhere else in government, or that Mobil would agree to some kind of terms. Then they broke the news to me that the utility is still forced to charge the low rate of .17 cents a kilowatt hour to residential customers as a result of the ridiculous law passed by both houses of the legislature before the previous election. You might recall that Tao Tao Tano went up to the legislature demanding that the legislators do something about the high cost of power or the supposed thousands of Tao Tao Tano supporters would vote them all out of office. Our leaders who are full of something, but integrity isn’t it, caved in and voted to lower the rates for residential customers to .17 cents a kilowatt hour, while raising the cost of power to business to .32 cents. They were told repeatedly that this was charging far below what it actually cost the utility to produce the power, but they didn’t care, they were too busy buying votes to secure their income for the next 2 years, or 4 years in the senate’s case. They knew that this would mean the utility wouldn’t have money to make its fuel purchases, but again, they just didn’t care, they were too afraid of being voted out of office if they didn’t cave in to Tao Tao Tano’s demands.

And now the chickens are coming home to roost, the utility had to lower the rates back down as of March 1st, and they are still continuing to bill at that rate. It might be worth noting at this point that the same legislator who authored the bill to lower the power rate in the first place has now also authored a bill to repeal that law. Did he all of the sudden wake up and realize this wouldn’t work, that CUC wasn’t going to be able to buy fuel, or did he only do it in the first place to buy votes before the election? The bill has passed the House and is now awaiting action from the Senate.

But up until March 1st, CUC was charging the higher rate for electricity, and yet they are still $3 million short for the fuel delivery, and that’s when they were supposedly charging enough to cover their costs. The billing cycle for these new lower rates won’t be felt until May and June, which means that CUC will again not have even close to enough money to pay for their fuel deliveries. Are we really supposed to expect Mobil to just keep bringing fuel knowing that we won’t be able to pay for it and that we’re not doing anything to fix the problem? Where will the Governor and the legislature reappropriate money from to pay for fuel the next time? Will it come from your department? Will they cut your job? One thing that I can guarantee you is they won’t take it out of their own pockets or operating expenses.

In the midst of the crisis, we have everybody blaming everybody else for the mess the utility currently finds itself in. The administration would blame the legislature for stalling and not approving their appointments to the Public Utilities Commission. The legislature would accuse the administration of using political favors in their appointments and not appointing those best qualified to serve in that capacity, or those with a conflict of interest. And CUC would blame the legislature for passing a law lowering the rates for residential customers to .17 cents a kilowatt hour, knowing that it costs far more than that to produce the electricity. And in the midst of all the arguing and finger pointing, the situation just gets more and more desperate and hopeless. It’s no wonder that so many people are choosing to move away and start over somewhere else; they just don’t have the confidence that things will ever change or improve here.

It’s very well documented just how cash strapped the government is and how we need to make some drastic cuts just to survive. But you might be interested to know that the legislature is willing to make cuts, but only to you, they don’t even want to consider inflicting any cuts that might impact them personally. In Friday’s edition of the Saipan Tribune there is a story on page 5 entitled “Austerity bill hurdles bitter House debate”. This bill reinstates the austerity Friday program and suspends holiday pay for the 3 remaining holidays this fiscal year. It also reduces the government’s retirement contribution rate to 11 percent, which is far less than the actuary recommended rate of 36.77 percent. The bill also reprograms $6 million from various revenue sources outside the General Fund. This bill is expected to raise $17 million for government operations.

As you may recall from the last round of austerity Friday’s, the only effect that has on the legislators themselves is that it gives them an extra day off every other week, while not touching their pay. So they’ve done it again, they’ve given themselves more time off at the same pay while cutting your pay. And they are also putting off their retirement obligations, and letting another administration down the line have to deal with the deficit to the Retirement Fund.

Voting against the bill were David Apatang, Heinz Hofschneider, Tina Sablan and Ralph Torres, Rosemond Santos was absent. Tina Sablan attempted to make an amendment to terminate government paid mobile phones and vehicle leases, which would also save the government a lot of money. She wanted to make other amendments as well, but was never allowed to introduce them. Representative Diego Benavente voted down Sablan’s proposed amendment, saying that her suggestion might cause controversy and delay passage of the bill in the Senate. Representative Joseph Deleon Guerrero said that this kind of amendment has no room in this legislation. In other words, Tina Sablan’s amendments would take away some of the lawmakers perks, and they weren’t willing to give up any of their own personal goodies for the good of the Commonwealth, they’d rather just have you pay for it. They have obviously learned no lessons at all and why should they? You put them back into office last November after watching them pull all these same shenanigans during their last term, and didn’t hold them accountable or make them answer for any of it. They believe they are truly above the rest of us and shouldn’t have to face the same hardships they inflict on the rest of us. They behave this way because they can. Instead of punishing them for it and booting them out of office, you re-elected them and rewarded them for their greedy and selfish behavior.

Yes, I have a lot of respect for Tina Sablan and her ideas, but the problem is she is vastly outvoted in the legislature, and it is still a numbers game there. Common sense, fiscal responsibility and ethics really don’t have any place in the legislature, and those that employ them and hold them dear will be outvoted and silenced every single time. So as business close because they can’t afford the outrageous power bills being levied against them, and as there are more blackouts because CUC can’t afford to pay for the fuel shipments, you can thank your lawmakers for lowering the residential rate before the last election in a sleazy attempt to hold onto their jobs and power.

If the legislature isn’t the root of all evil, it certainly isn’t far from it!

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I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.