GOVERNOR Ralph DLG Torres spoke to the business community on Wednesday during the Saipan Chamber of Commerce General Membership Meeting at the Hyatt Resort Saipan.
In his address, the Governor responded to concerns raised by the business community.
“Community collaboration is key to the success of our Commonwealth, and I take your comments seriously as Governor. A big issue that has been brought to my attention is our new Munis financial system, which I understand is a concern for vendors,” he said.
The governor recalled that Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig spoke with the chamber in October, underscoring the administration’s goal for more budget transparency and to make financial processes more effective and efficient.
“As you all know we converted to a new financial management information system, Tyler Munis, and we had some expected transition issues when converting invoices from JDE software to Munis. We should be good now and [Secretary Atalig] assured me that vendors are getting paid, and we want to thank our business community for their patience as we navigate this huge technological shift,” he said.
Finance is working with all departments, the governor said, to train staff, improve productivity and correct any issues during this first stage of implementation.
“I will ensure that Finance continues to improve the implementation so that we can improve with this new process, and I thank you all for your understanding and patience,” he said.
Another issue that came to the governor’s attention was the status of nonprofit funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.
He said Secretary Atalig had met with the Mariana Alliance of Non-Governmental Organizations, or MANGO, to review guidelines for nonprofit organizations to avail of these funds.
The governor said he and Secretary Atalig finalized awards for nonprofits that submitted requests for assistance.
“While we can’t meet everyone’s full application, I’m happy to share that we can help Commonwealth non-profits secure funding through ARPA. I asked [Secretary Atalig] to inform those of their rewards. We will organize the official presentation of the award to each nonprofit organization in the coming weeks,” he said.
Additionally, Governor Torres said he has asked the Commonwealth Economic Development Agency, or CEDA, to help the small business community with grants to get their businesses back up and running.
At the CNMI Safe Travels Summit, a small business owner said small businesses had been “left in the dark” amid decisions being made for the business world.
But Governor Torres disagreed, noting the progress being made with CEDA to help small businesses.
“With approximately $20 million available for small businesses, the goal of helping our Commonwealth small businesses is to get our economy back up and running. We want to see our private sector employ our local people and help get us back to where we were headed before the pandemic. I encourage each of you to contact CEDA for assistance. My administration is pro-business and we want to see you all survive and succeed,” the governor said.
He noted that the main restriction with ARPA funding is that the funds cannot be used for the pension obligation, nor to reduce or subsidize state or Commonwealth tax rates.
“Other restrictions are that we can’t pay anything until March 2021. As for what happens if we don’t use those funds before we need them, which is December 2024, we will have to then return the funds to the US Treasury,” he explained.
He added: ‘I know that the Secretary of Finance will ensure that we spend these funds well in advance, because the goal of my administration is to inject funds into our community to help the private sector and stimulate economic development in our he is. We must ensure that we commit these dollars by December 2024 and we can request an extension to December 2026 for committed and encumbered projects by December 2024. All projects must be completed by December 2026 or we we will have to return the remaining funds and for all projects not completed, we will have to finance it until its completion with local funds.
In conclusion, Governor Torres spoke about the increase in Covid-19 cases in the community.
“I am aware that many have expressed concern and fear. I will say that CHCC, our task force, and I are working on new protocols to protect our community and prepare for the possible threat of the new omicron variant. The protocols are currently under review by the Attorney General. We will let you all know once it has been approved,” he said.
“Since early 2020, my Administration, through the Governor’s Covid-19 Task Force and the CHCC, has put in place strict but necessary constraints on activities across the Commonwealth to prevent and control the spread of Covid-19 in our community.”
He said “thanks in large part to the rapid implementation of these risk mitigation measures, ongoing border protection measures, successful vaccination efforts, as well as community cooperation to comply. At the direction of CNMI health officials, CNMI continues to remain a safe place as hospitalizations remain low and mostly from unvaccinated residents.
The governor said CNMI’s goal now is to focus on protecting against increased hospitalization that could overwhelm CHCC and private clinics and ultimately protect vulnerable residents such as manamko’ or the elderly and people with health problems.
“We also need to encourage more people to get vaccinated,” he said.
Governor Torres added that during his tenure as Governor, the policy decisions he has made have always been in the best interests of the economy and the people of CNMI.
“I appreciate the value you all bring to the table. Every day you are open for business, we get closer to our goals of a world-class tourism destination, a strong education system, a safe and resilient community and a community of opportunity and promise. As government, we know we need to do a better job of ensuring your success so that we can all succeed,” he said.
“Ultimately, your success is our success. Now, more than ever, we need to come together, stay vigilant about our health without causing widespread panic, and continue to make the Marianas a top destination. Let’s work together to normalize our tourism so that vaccinated visitors can come and enjoy our beautiful islands and our warm hospitality. This is what we can do to help minimize the negative effects of this economic loss. It’s all about partnerships and communication.
Governor Torres encourages the community to continue to follow updates from CHCC and his office for the latest and most accurate information regarding the coronavirus.