By Nancy I. Maanao
The Saipan casino is trying to get an illegal discount from what it owes to the people of the Commonwealth, and Rota Sen. Paul Manglona is calling it out.
Citing a news report in the Marianas Variety in a letter Mr. Manglona wrote to Attorney General Edward Manibusan Friday, the senator said it is not legal for anyone in the Commonwealth government to approve Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC's proposal to reduce its license fee by 50 percent, contribute less to the Community Development Fund, and extend construction deadlines without legislative authorization.
The casino appears to have drafted these proposed discounts and changes in a draft Amendment #9 to the Casino License Agreement, according to Mr. Manglona. The request is coming from the CNMI Lottery Commission, which has yet to officially meet.
"As far as my office is aware, the CNMI Casino License Agreement did not provide provisions or any authority to allow reductions in licensing fees," Mr. Manglona wrote. "We are also not aware of any statute that allows any attorney, representative, or employee of any branch of the CNMI to allow the reduction of licensing fees in any circumstance."
From its inception and through several changes in law and to the casino license agreement, the Republican-dominated government in the CNMI has championed the Saipan casino, lauding its creation and continued existence as the Messiah of the Commonwealth's economy and government. From Gov. Ralph Torres to former House Speaker Rafael Demapan to governor's chief of staff and former House Rep. Angel Demapan, highly-placed government officials have promised the CNMI people economic salvation through the casino.
These leaders bastardized the original statute and agreement, providing IPI with significant leeway in its operations, several pushbacks of deadlines, and even the removal of a completion bond from its performance contract. Huge tracts of land throughout Saipan have changed hands and fallen into the control of foreigners. Political control of the Commonwealth government itself has largely been wrested from its people and into the favor of the casino's operators. In return, IPI vendor records show, IPI has paid millions of dollars to the same politicians who made IPI's rise possible.
After several years in operation, where financial records show the casino made billions of dollars, what the casino years have left is a wake of destruction and a monstrosity in the heart of a decaying Garapan. The governor and his cronies celebrate the hundreds of jobs created, but that reality was supplanted by the workers who lost life and limb, and the employees of companies that went belly up because IPI has refused to pay their contracts. The promise of economic prosperity has turned into a nightmare of increasing gambling and drug addiction, violent crime, and unsolved murders. And, now, the Republican promise of casino taxes and fees that will keep the government solvent is up for a discount sale exponentially more valuable than Black Friday.
"It would appear that Amendment No. 9 has originated from the licensee, and that any approval by the CNMI Lottery Commission, if endorsed by the Attorney General, would reduce a future contractual debt of a private party to the CNMI, a dangerous precedent without legislative standing that would materially harm the financial affairs of the CNMI," Mr. Manglona wrote.
Shortly into Mr. Torres's tenure as the governor and despite the billions in revenue reportedly made by the casino, the Commonwealth government began deficit spending. The government's nearly-insolvent financial situation has forced two austerity programs, the furlough of hundreds, constant threats on the pensions of retirees, the pummeling of the public school system, and dilapidating public infrastructure.
As the false promises of prosperity from the casino's operations have manifested into the loss of wealth and even life throughout the Commonwealth, the casino and its political supporters have shrouded themselves in secrecy.
"My office has been trying to establish the status of this contractor, who was engaged by the CNMI. Our efforts are hampered by the reluctance of the contractor to provide details of their engagement. What my office has established is that DPAC has executed a contract which prevents them from communicating or disclosing their CNMI contracted works due to a non-disclosure section that the Office of the Attorney General has approved. I would like to ask the Office of the Attorney General as to why such a non-disclosure requirement was imposed on the CNMI contractor when the project is to provide assistance that does not appear to involve state secrets or commercial secrets. It is clear that this non-disclosure requirement is contrary to transparency expectations for public good. Therefore, my office asks that the Office of the Attorney General remove this non-disclosure and remove all communication restrictions imposed on the CNMI contractor.
"In addition, our investigation of the Casino License Agreement Amendment No. 6 illustrates the Office of the Attorney General had concurred with the Office of the Governor, the Lottery Commission, and the Licensee to remove the DPAC from any review of the initial gaming facility. It is clear that DPAC has a role to provide the CNMI guidance in project management and risk assessments, in addition to review and recommendation for schedule adjustments. Also, it appears that the report of the contractor may have illustrated compliance defects and their removal is completely against public interests. Therefore, I ask the Office of the Attorney General to review the amendments and restore the review process that was originally required of the DPAC review for the Saipan Integrated Resorts." - excerpt from Mr. Manglona's letter to Mr. Manibusan
Mr. Manglona is calling on the attorney general to review thoroughly, not just the legality of the proposal, but the manner in which it was made.
People are breaking the law, and he wants to know, who.