IF you are a retiree keeping up with the rapidly changing events negatively influencing the Fund and your future pension, you must be aware that one of the lawyers of the Retirement Fund told a U.S. judge that that there will be cuts in pension benefits.
As a result you may soon expect a diminishment of your money at a time when inflation has increased the prices of everything — food, utilities, fuel — everything.
Let me state at this point so there will be no doubt — I support a reduction in pension benefits if it will prolong some measure of payment — and I favor receivership.
The effect on our pocketbooks will get worse as a result of the imminent reduction in pensions in a few months — you can write it on the wall and count on it. What will be left in our pockets will buy less than it now does as a result of inflation.
There is no escaping who to blame for our deteriorating quality of life — clearly it has been the people elected to office. No one else.
As one who has spent more than 50 years, in many areas of the world assisting various countries to successfully achieve economic growth — do not accept at face value the excuse that the diminishment of pensions is entirely a result of the declining economy — but in reality it has been a result of ineffective elected officials. The question you must ask is — who was elected to office and failed to work diligently to improve the economy which has continued in its slow decline adversely effecting the Retirement Fund and the future continued reliability of your pension?
Pity they can’t be sued.
I am very well aware of some of the causes for the island’s economic decline which include factors beyond the control of the NMI such as the demise of the garment industry as a result of policies of the World Trade Organization; SARS; Asian flu and bird flu scare; the fear of flying for some because of terrorism — all of which are forces acting adversely on the economic well being of the NMI and all external events totally beyond the control of the NMI. But my instinct tells me that other island forces acted upon the tipping point of the economic decline over which the CNMI had a measure of control — but failed to act to mitigate the additional forces speeding the “slide.”
The economic decline of the NMI did not occur overnight, it has been a slow drift downward with no real effective, dedicated “all out” concerted effort to turn it around. Why — you might wonder?
Because you have elected people to office who do not know what to do — or how to do it. Unfortunately, it appears that they not only do not know what to do — but don’t know they don’t know. It is as elegantly simple as that!
Saipan has a lot of potential for growth and its geographic location in proximity to Asian markets is well known — still the islands fall far short of achieving their full potential. Whose fault is that? It you do not know by now — you never will.
The NMI’s investment laws and business regulations are not all that investor friendly; there is too much crime; unreliable and exorbitantly expensive power; an untrained local labor force limited in size; constant political bickering and limited cooperation between the executive and legislative branches both of which are far too large and expensive for the population and area governed. On top of that there are doubts expressed by several legislators about a possible change in the island’s relationship with the U.S. which probably appears to some “potential” investors as having the future possibility of being a politically unstable area. It’s all about perception.
Don’t take my word for it — find out the reason many Japanese investors with a long history of association with the islands have bailed out. Look at the San Roque Shopping Mall and the former Nikko Hotel — this should tell you something and it is not entirely a result of JAL’s pull out. Ask yourself why did the airline leave?
The Marianas Visitors Authority and the hotels are doing the best they can to keep the tourist sector afloat — but the people seem not to give a “tinkers damn” as to what happens to the industry.
Tourist thefts, assaults and murder tarnish the tourist sector’s image as a peaceful visitor destination.
Taking care of business
Once while I was resident of Honolulu, a tour bus was stopped and the passengers robbed by a group of thieves. They boarded the bus and stole all the money and jewelry from the tourists and then fled. Upon hearing of this disgraceful crime the entire community of Oahu became outraged. They were well aware of the value of tourism to the economy of Hawaii. The island’s law enforcement community went on full alert, the fire department, taxi drivers, and civic minded citizen all began to search for the individuals responsible for the felony.
While this was taking place the governor invited the victims to breakfast at the governor’s mansion and formally apologized to the Japanese visitors. Their hotels waived the room charges and merchants throughout the community took up a collection to pay for their other expenses. This is an example of the seriousness the citizens of Hawaii view an affront to their economy. The thieves were eventually caught and punished.
Realize that other than the investors who are still in the NMI and the local people — no one else really cares about your islands — tourists can go elsewhere.
Do you want your children to remain at home on the island when they reach employable age? If you do — get busy and make something of the islands and stop waiting on others to do it for you.
Many of the elected officials who have been in office for more than four years should be voted out and then watch to see if they can make it in the private sector — I will bet that some can’t made it on their own — yet they have been responsible for making the laws effecting — I should say, strangling — business and investment. I ask you — does that make sense?
Just remember what such dynamic leaders of the past accomplished — truly great men, each with a vision — Joeten, Distad Frank Ada, Manny Villagomez, Olympia Borja, Luis Benavente, Gus Camacho to mention only a few.
Today we have Joe Ayuyu, David Sablan, Bob Jones, Tony Pellegrino — and many others. Government officials must listen and learn from them and act on their advice and that of chamber members as to how to improve economic conditions.
A renowned Japanese tourism expert wrote an excellent four part article published in the Tribune entitled: “What should we do NOW to promote the NMI?” Check out all four in the paper’s archives for March 10, 13, 14, and 15, 2006. Among the many suggestions and valuable advice Mr. Koki Narita pointed out, “raise the consciousness of every individual in every department of the government to instill in them a pro-business and professional attitude, a pro-business consciousness aimed at serving the public.”
In my opinion the NMI has lost a lot of time in getting its act together to design an economic recovery action program. It is now 5 minutes until midnight. The islands no longer have the luxury of having law makers learn their job on the job — and you don’t need officials in place who have one year’s experience ten to fifteen times over.
Experienced development experts can be individually contracted from the Asian Development Bank in Manila and the World Bank in Washington thus overriding any U.S. government prohibition on seeking free assistance from international institutions. Why? Because officials in the U.S. have the mindset that the U.S. gives aid — it doesn’t receive it.
Editor’s Note: The author has had a long association with the islands and in the eighties published the “Business Reference & Investment Guide to the NMI” and prepared a number of hotel and other project financial feasibility analyses for use as investment prospectus for joint ventures as well as loan financing documentation for private investors.
Stewart has been a banking advisor to Tunisia’s Societe Tunisienne Development Bank, the Royal Kingdom of Thailand’s Board of Investment, African Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the Bahamas Development Bank.
In the early 60’s he served as an economic development project advisor when the U.S. State Department undertook programs to implement President Kennedy’s foreign policy of encouraging newly emerging independent countries in Africa and Asia to use the tools of capitalism and private enterprise as implementing agents for their national economic development aspirations.