By Troy Torres
(Tumon, Guam) In an hour-and-a-half interview on KKMP Saipan, Gov. Ralph Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios spoke extensively of coronavirus concerns and how it is affecting the Commonwealth's economy and government finances. One recurring theme in their comments was this: By the end of the week, they'll be making decisions on what more to do in the face of growing austerity in the government.
In what seemed throughout the interview as a cushioning-of-the-blow for what is to be announced next, Mr. Torres and Mr. Palacios asked the people of the Commonwealth for their understanding and their patience, often explaining the steps and the depths of their planning and collaboration with others throughout the local government and the private sector, the airlines, and the federal government.
Mr. Palacios asked that government employees and their dependents keep some perspective and understand that while they endure 64-hour pay periods, private sector employees are being laid off because of the drastic reduction in tourist arrivals.
"We only have one industry and it's time we take a look at other industries," Mr. Palacios said. "The downward departure is one option. The other option is to keep the hours and reduce the workforce. By the end of the week we'll have a better understanding on the 64 hours, and what best to do after that."
The duo continued to leave the door open for austerity measures that will eclipse the current round. They openly explored some of these avenues on the air in their discussions with the show's hosts.
"We're looking at consolidating some of the offices together," Mr. Torres said. "In the past for austerity we just cut everybody across the board. Today, we looked at the avenue - what can we do to make sure our federal programs can move forward?"
Mr. Torres explained the economic factors his office has been weighing, revealed data, budget numbers (which conflicted with his pronouncements last week), and even hotel occupancy rates, and said that his administration is looking for ways to make the 64-hour austerity policies work just as they are. Nonetheless, the theme remained an openness and a glimpse to announcements of further cuts.
"Now I'm very concerned if we're going to make the 64 hours," Mr. Torres said. "Our salaries will also be reduced."
Kandit has reached out to governor's communications director Kevin Bautista for further comment on Mr. Torres's pronouncement that elected officials's salaries will be reduced, and what - if any - announcements will be made at the end of the week regarding further austerity.
"We will come up with a final decision this week," Mr. Palacios said in the interview.