New Governor Inos buckles down to work
But there will be no ‘overnight fixes’, he says
By Haidee V. Eugenio
With less than two years or up to January 2015 to finish his term of resigned governor Benigno R. Fitial, newly-sworn-in Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Governor Eloy S. Inos said his administration will reprioritize and continue ongoing efforts to beef up the tourism economy rather than bring in a whole new agenda on the table.
Tourism is the only major industry in the CNMI, which has been receiving more United States funding than the Commonwealth could generate from taxes and fees.
“Obviously, I want to have a very ambitious agenda because…at least for this term, I’ve got less than two years to catch up with the many issues and I don’t know if we have enough time. So we try to reprioritize what we’re doing and there are a lot of projects on the table right now. But I like…to concentrate on and finish and focus on tourism,” Inos said after he was sworn in as CNMI’s seventh governor.
The CNMI’s main tourist markets are Japan and Korea, with China and Russia as emerging markets.
Taking off from where Fitial left off, Inos is also bent on prolonging the lifespan of the pension agency or the NMI Retirement Fund, improving the healthcare system and lowering the cost of power and water rates. When he was still lieutenant-governor, Inos was already working to save the pension agency and steer the utilities agency towards tapping renewable energy.
Despite a limited term to finish, Inos has ambitions to run for governor in the November 2014 general elections for a full four-year term.
For observers of CNMI politics, Inos’s chances of winning that 2014 race will depend on how well he rids the government of corruption and improve transparency. This also means cleaning up the “mess” left behind by the former governor whom the House of Representatives impeached on 18 articles of corruption, commission of felony and neglect of duty.
The House’s successful impeachment the second time around was largely a result of the majority of CNMI voters’ quest for a corruption-free and more transparent government.
Tourism arrivals have picked up but the CNMI government and private stakeholders remain cautiously optimistic about economic growth.
Inos himself is not raising the revenue projection for the fiscal year 2014, which would remain at US$114 million, the same as the current FY 2013 level.
However, the tourism taskforce that Inos’ predecessor created is exerting all efforts to improve and maintain tourism sites. Regulatory agencies are also tasked to cut bureaucratic red tape for stakeholders and investors wanting to set up new or improve on their existing tourism-related businesses. In the CNMI, just cleaning up tourist spots requires regulatory agency permits.
“That’s the US$24,000 question right now— how will the new administration work with business,” Saipan Chamber of Commerce executive director Richard Pierce told ISLANDS BUSINESS.
“I have known and worked with the governor for nearly 30 years in the public and private sectors. I can’t imagine anyone in government that I would trust in this new position more than I would Mr Inos.”
Pierce said “it’s not what brought the change in leadership that’s important. It’s how the change in leadership will perform that is.”
The Saipan Chamber of Commerce, CNMI’s largest business organization with over 160 members, invited the new governor to be guest speaker at its March general membership meeting to hear directly from him his “approach” to the “tasks” ahead of him.
CNMI press secretary Angel Demapan said “for the most part, it (Inos’ economic agenda) is going to be a continuation of the initiatives we’ve undertaken.
“The governor in his previous role was very much involved in a lot of the initiatives that we were doing already. He has not yet unveiled any new initiatives that we would be looking at but right now we’re just continuing the work that the administration has been doing. At the forefront of that is of course the tourism taskforce and working with the Legislature and other elected leaders to address the economic challenges we’re facing,” he said.
Inos, 63, has been seen by many as a better alternative to Fitial, the first impeached and resigned governor in the CNMI and in any U.S. insular area in the Pacific.
Fitial became the subject of an increasingly growing disappointment among the population, and that was also around the time when Inos was no longer seen as much a part of Fitial’s decision-making circle except for those that had to do with government finances.
Inos was insulated for the most part from the public’s disapproval of Fitial.
Inos has an extensive business and financial background in the private sector before Fitial appointed him finance secretary in 2006 and later on his lieutenant-governor in 2009. He was elected to serve as lieutenant-governor in November 2009. When Fitial resigned on Feb. 20, 2013, or days before the March 7 start of his impeachment trial at the Senate, Inos became CNMI’s seventh governor.
On immigration issue, Rene Reyes, founding president of Marianas Advocates for Humanitarian Affairs Ltd. or MAHAL, said an Inos administration will be more receptive to the needs and rights of long-term legal foreign workers, unlike his predecessor who didn’t support pathway to U.S. citizenship for foreign laborers.
Days after he assumed his post, Inos started reorganizing the administration. He has also stopped “until further notice” government hiring of workers and salary increases. This comes at a time when CNMI risks losing federal funds because of “sequestration,” a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts to U.S. government agencies totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years taking effect on March 1.
But with all the high hopes for the new administration, Inos asks that people understand there will be “no overnight fixes”. But he vowed to listen to the people and work with other officials to make CNMI a better place to live and visit.
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