Government and business leaders discuss ways to revive economy

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CNMI government and business leaders discussed the current state of the economy and how to revive it in a townhall meeting held in the Hyatt Regency Saipan ballroom on Wednesday.

The participants included Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider, Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar, Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao and Rep. Joseph Leepan Guerrero, members of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors led by its chairman, Jerry Tan, COO and president of Tan Holdings Corp., Education Commissioner Alfred Ada and Northern Marianas College Interim President Frankie Eliptico.

The two-hour meeting discussed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the local business community.

Chamber president Velma Palacios relayed to the CNMI officials the sentiments of businesses, especially the small ones, that have been having a hard time dealing with  federal and local rules.

She said, many local businesses are still dealing with the problems created by the federally mandated prevailing wage survey while those that are trying to reopen their businesses have found out that permitting agencies are charging higher fees.

Joe Guerrero, a restaurant and bar owner, said some of the fees have doubled or tripled.

“Lt., you have to listen to this,” Rep. Leepan Guerrero told the lt. governor. “Our permitting agencies suck. The administration has to take action on this.”

Some small business owners recounted how they are trying to survive in these hard times.

A salon owner said because many people are still scared to go to salons, she went house-to-house in the villages to provide haircut and other services.

Roman “Bo” T. Palacios, who represented J.C. Tenorio Enterprises, said the CNMI has to explore ways to help small businesses, which he believes are an important part of the economy.



Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Velma Palacios, right, and Janice Tenorio of IT&E participate in a townhall meeting on Wednesday at the Hyatt. Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano


Sen. Sixto Igisomar, left, talks with Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, seated, while  Rep. Leepan Guerrero, right, reads a document  during the Saipan Chamber of Commerce townhall meeting in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Saipan on Wednesday. Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

Tan, for his part, said, “While we talk about reopening the economy safely, let us first see if there’s really a demand out there.” He was referring to the top tourism markets of the CNMI whose economies have also been devastated by the global pandemic.

Even if the CNMI opens up to tourists, he said, there may be no airplanes bringing in  passengers.

Tan said because of the unique economic conditions of the CNMI, it should be exempted from certain strict federal rules.

Lt. Gov. Palacios said he had  met with the heads of permitting agencies last week to discuss the concerns of the business community.

He said the agencies will “look at what they need to do to streamline things.”

The lt. governor added that federal permitting rules are also delaying critical infrastructure recovery projects in the Commonwealth. He said the CNMI government itself is also struggling to comply with the requirements of federal agencies.

But he said the CNMI is still “poised to receive close to  half a billion dollars in federal assistance for infrastructure.”

Speaker Attao agreed, saying that “hopefully in the following months,” the CNMI will start receiving millions of dollars in capital improvement funds and other federal assistance.



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