Friday, June 6, 2008

My State of the Commonwealth Assessment

Food For Thought 6-6-08

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.

For quite a while I took flack for my criticism of the government, their lack of efficiency, their utter lack of professionalism, the blatant nepotism, cronyism, mismanagement, illegal deeds, and the list just goes on and on and on. I have been warning about this “perfect storm” meltdown for the past 8 years. It really wasn’t hard to see it coming, it didn’t take a Wharton School of Business economist to predict it, and in fact it was pretty hard to imagine anything else happening actually. But I was called an alarmist, a meddling haole, an outspoken outsider, and a whole host of other names. I was accused of bashing the last Governor as a political favor to his opponents; I have been accused of going easy on this Governor, for whatever reason. But now I’m far from the only one who is outraged at what is going on and who is speaking out on it.

Just so everyone understands and we’re all on the same page here, yes, I believe this administration inherited a horrible mess, in almost every single aspect. And yes, I’m still shocked that no one from the previous administration is in jail right now for their misdeeds while in office. But this administration has had 2 ½ years to give us the “Better Times” they promised. They claimed they had a plan, they claimed they were going to end the fuel surcharge that the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation was charging us. At this point it is painfully obvious, they had no real plan, and they just flat out lied to us about what they were going to do with the CUC rates.

I realize that the engines and generators had not been properly maintained at all during the previous administration, but it’s been 2 ½ years. They knew the engines would be breaking down, and yet they didn’t come up with a contingency plan while they would be rehabbing the engines. A private company offered to bring one of their excess generators over to provide extra power so we wouldn’t have to go through rolling blackouts, but the government never entertained their offer. I guess they thought we would be happier having numerous rolling blackouts every day. They must have thought we had an endless supply of money to continue repairing and replacing our burned up air conditioners, computers, appliances and other electronic equipment, because they didn’t have the utility company own up to its responsibility for all the destruction and reimburse people for their damages. The government must have thought business would want to be forced to close because they didn’t have enough power to stay open. They must have thought that you didn’t care if you had to put up with numerous outages every day at home, which caused food to spoil in your refrigerator and freezer. They must have thought we wouldn’t care that a supplemental engine would be running at over 90% efficiency and not wasting over 60% of our fuel and lube oil as our current engines do. Yes, we might have had to pay a bit extra to have those engines brought in temporarily, but couldn’t they figure out that we would have easily saved that money several times over by running more efficient engines? It’s really not rocket science!
And then we’ve been lied to more times than I can count about the duration of the power outages and rolling blackouts. We’ve been given more false deadlines as to when the rolling blackouts would stop than we can count. Instead of publishing a power outage schedule that we can all depend on and follow, they have now started publishing what they call a contingency outage schedule. That means that is the schedule they will follow if they need to shut down certain feeders for whatever reason. So you really never know if they will be shutting off power or not. So if you run around your home or office shutting off all the electronics, you’re never really sure if they’re actually going to turn off the power or not. And then they seem to have trouble telling the time. If the schedule says 10 am, it means 9:30 or maybe 10:15, you really never know.

I haven’t talked to a single person that actually believes the government knows what it’s doing with CUC, or who thinks they are actually improving the situation. There is zero confidence in this administration’s ability to fix the problems at CUC or to actually move us toward renewable energy sources. People are disgusted, fed up and ready to revolt over the power situation. I don’t know what will be happening in the coming days, but I’m fairly certain that you will see more and more people completely losing any and all trust that this administration can or will make any positive difference whatsoever.

And then there is the mess involving the Federal economic stimulus checks. Some people got their full checks, others got nothing, and some seemed to get partial checks. The Department of Finance tells us that if there were deficiencies in your 2007 tax return that it will delay you receiving your economic stimulus checks. What they didn’t tell us is that even if the deficiency was their fault, it would still delay them giving you your economic stimulus check. I read an example this week about someone who received a letter from Revenue & Tax about a $10.50 discrepancy in their tax return, therefore they would not be receiving their check until the discrepancy was cleared up. They had their accountant go over their taxes again, and were told that the discrepancy was due to an error in calculation by the Division of Revenue & Tax. But of course they didn’t bother notifying them right away after they filed their taxes; they waited until now, when they could use it as an excuse to not give them their economic stimulus checks right away. So because of a $10.50 mistake, which was the fault of Revenue & Tax, they were withholding over $2,000 of economic stimulus money from this family. And that’s just one example; there are numerous people out there with similar stories.

Why would the government be doing this? Are they using some of the money from the federal government for the economic stimulus checks to help float them financially while they sort out their “messes”? Are they trying to hang onto some of it for as long as they can to earn interest on it? Or are they really just that inefficient and unorganized? I sent an e-mail to the Governor’s Press Secretary early this week telling him that it would be nice if they could have Eloy Inos or someone else from the Department of Finance come in and answer all the questions created by this mess. I told them I’d welcome them any day they could make it. I was told that was a great idea and they would welcome the opportunity to come in and clarify the situation, but yet they still have not contacted me with a day they would be willing to come in and answer questions. Why is that? Do they not have answers for the questions they know I will be asking? What happened to the promise of this administration to be open and accountable to the people, what happened to the transparency?

I said before the last gubernatorial election that whoever won was going to be inheriting the biggest mess the CNMI has ever seen, and it would be a thankless task. I said that there was going to have to be a lot of pain as corrective measures were taken and things rectified from the debacle left by the last administration. That was true then, and it’s still true today. And it’s one thing if you’re experiencing the pain as you see the light at the end of the tunnel and realize it’s being done for your own good. I don’t believe that’s the case right now. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, and we have learned we can’t believe anything we’re told. Things have continued on a very steep downward spiral and there are no signs that we will pull out of it anytime soon. Family after family is packing their bags and heading out in search of a new start and a new life somewhere else, anywhere else. They have come to the conclusion that things couldn’t possibly be any worse anywhere else.

2 ½ years into their term, this administration is looking like it will go down in history as the worst administration in the history of the CNMI. Yes, they inherited a huge mess, but instead of tackling the problems with a plan and minimizing the pain and problems, they disregarded the cost of their actions and just blindly plowed ahead, driving families and business out of the islands as a result. And then when presented with an opportunity to make a positive impact, distributing the federal economic stimulus checks, they couldn’t even get that one right, and made a lot of people very mad in the process. This was a chance to pump some much needed dollars into a starving local economy, but they only managed to get part of the money where it belonged, the rest of it is still sitting in their bank account, accruing interest for them, while they try to fix their own mistakes so they can finally give people what the federal government wanted them to have much earlier. And instead of coming in on the air and explaining what is going on and offering some answers to the questions, they are still tucked away in their offices, trying to avoid the angry masses out in the hallways.

If I had to give the present administration a midterm grade on their performance so far, I’m afraid it would have to be a D-. The only thing that keeps them from getting a failing grade is that they have slowed down the spending and slashed the budgets, which is something their predecessor was unwilling to do or admit there was a need for. However, the nepotism and cronyism has been as entrenched in this administration as any other, I detected no difference at all. They have utterly and miserably failed in their handling of the entire CUC situation. They have failed to attract the new investors they promised when running for office. They have failed in their relations with the U.S. government. And they have failed to give people hope or a reason to stay here, the most stinging indictment of all.

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.

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