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Variations | It’s yesterday once more

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FORTY-FIVE years ago, Marianas Variety reported that a member of the Saipan Municipal Council urged the U.S. to appoint a special prosecutor for the Trust Territory and its six districts: the (Northern) Marianas, the Marshalls, Palau, Ponape, Truk and Yap. The TT was administered by the U.S. “on behalf of the United Nations.”

The letter was dated Aug. 13, 1975 and was addressed to President Gerald Ford and the chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Territorial and Insular Affairs,  Phillip Burton, Democrat of California. The Saipan councilman  noted that a special prosecutor for Guam “worked so well in a short time to frighten the Guam Legislature.” In the Northern Marianas, he said a special prosecutor “would end the free ride for administrators who can do no wrong and save a lot of wasted money.”   Each TT district was headed by an administrator appointed by the high commissioner who was an appointee of the U.S. president.

Back then, Saipan’s municipal council had 15 elected members and their presiding officer was called speaker. In 1975, all of them were members of the Popular Party which is today known as the Democratic Party. Besides a municipal council, Saipan also had 11 elected village commissioners, all of whom in 1975 were “Populars.” There was also a unicameral Marianas District Legislature, also dominated by the Popular Party, and a bicameral Congress of Micronesia. Under the U.S., the TT government was the island people’s main employer. “We will hire them,” a former TT official from the U.S. recounted, “and they’ll sit at a desk, won’t be very much to do, but we just can’t have them going out sitting under a coconut tree somewhere. They’re going to have to sit there eight hours a day and do the typing or push the paper or whatever it was that had to be done in order to justify this pay.”

On MV’s front page, Aug. 29, 1975:

  • The embezzlement charges against a former Tinian mayor were dismissed by Judge Robert A. Hefner who said that the TT prosecutor “failed to perform its duty and…deprived the defendant of his fundamental right to a speedy trial.” The defendant was originally charged in Oct. 1973 with seven counts of embezzlement, two counts of conspiracy, two counts of grand larceny and two counts of cheating. All the charges involved the misuse or misappropriation of public funds.
  • A Saipan councilman inquired about the status of the disciplinary proceedings brought against a Marianas district legislative counsel, and the allegation that the president of the legislature, “beginning on or about April 1, 1970,” was illegally disbursing public funds.

On Sept. 5, 1975, Variety reported that a ballistic expert from Japan would testify on the first day of the first jury trial in the Marianas district. The defendant, a local man, was charged with  the second degree murder of another local man, and with the unlawful possession of a .38 caliber pistol. The incident occurred at a bar owned by the defendant who was also a police officer (and future CNMI lawmaker). According to the defense, the victim “was one of the major trouble makers in the community…and he was going to kill” the defendant and the defendant’s wife. The defendant, his lawyer said, was trying to “protect himself and his wife from death.”

The following week, Variety informed its readers that a former local judge was sentenced to three years in prison, but all suspended, and was required to pay $144 (about $714 today) to the TT government within three months. He was found guilty of obtaining government funds under false pretenses. The TT government had reimbursed the former judge for his car rental, amounting to $144, based on a fake receipt he had submitted. The former judge —  a model citizen, according to his lawyer — told the court that the case “is more a matter of misunderstanding between the District Finance Office and myself.”

As for the murder trial, MV reported that jurors, after less than two hours of deliberations, found the defendant not guilty. The jurors believed that he had acted in self-defense.

In the same issue, MV published a letter to the editor from a taxpayer complaining about the annual pay for each member of the Marianas legislature: $8,000 (worth $38,500 today; current CNMI lawmakers each get $32,000 a year). The president of the legislature, for his part, received $12,000  ($57,700 today). “Look how ridiculous [it is] to see how the elected [officials] helped and treated themselves, filling their stomachs with…taxpayers’ money.” He also accused one of the legislators of testifying in favor of Pan Am Airlines which, the letter writer alleged, paid the legislator’s plane ticket and accommodations in Washington, D.C. “Then, what happened is that upon your return from your trip…you claim for reimbursement under public funds.” The letter writer said it was high time to elect “new face[s]” who are “educated, active, interested, and with no personal business and…most important…is…willing to help…all the people of the entire Marianas….”

On Sept. 19. 1975, Variety reported that in an “effort to cut down abuse of TT [government] vehicles and to more efficiently use the vehicles available, the TT is in the process of setting up a central motor pool under the complete authority of [the] chief of TT Operations and Maintenance.” The chief, who was from the U.S., “noted that often TT employees called in [to say] that they ‘missed their ride’ and someone usually had to go after them….” The chief said “it is the responsibility of the employee to get to work but…that the government may set up some type of car pool so that employees [could] be dropped at their job site.”

In the same issue, Variety reported that amid persistent problems with inadequate classroom buildings, the Garapan Head Start Center had re-opened but had to shut down again two days later “when heavy rains poured through the new roof….” The center  had to be closed in Sept. 1974 due to a leaky roof, faulty kitchen wiring and lack of protective window canvass. The Garapan center also served the children in San Vicente and San Jose.

On Sept. 26, 1975,  the TT community development director told Variety that “vandals have stolen the tennis net from the civic center court for the third time since 1973.” He said the theft was not reported to the police because “it would take up too much time.” He also said that his office “has no money” to buy a new tennis net. According to MV, “Tennis players now have to option of playing on the Coast Guard court which is improperly lined and has no ‘peripheral play space,’ or they can drive several miles up to the [Capital] Hill court which is usually in use.”

On page 11 of MV’s 12-page mimeographed edition was a photo of a pile of trash on a public road. The caption was “Saipan is not big enough for litter!”

 

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