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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

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CNMI Governor Allegedly Engaged In Talks To Buy Ferry
Officials criticize communications over $80 million ice-breaker

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 4, 2012) – Lawmakers are calling on the Fitial administration to disclose other multi-million dollar deals or communication with vendors, after they were taken by surprise by reports that the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands was having talks with owners of an unused $80-million ice-breaking ferry in Alaska. The administration confirmed "several weeks" of communication with the vessel owners, but said it is not buying the ferry.

Some House members are also asking the administration to cancel the $190.8-million diesel power purchase agreement for the same reason it cited in declining the $80-million ferry deal-a lack of a thorough and complete study.

Rep. Ray Yumul (IR-Saipan) said yesterday that the administration should have shared with lawmakers and the public about the initial consideration of the $80-million ferry, the Susitna.

"It is strange that they would want an economic study," Yumul said, when the administration signed a sole-source, $190.8-million deal with Saipan Development LLC without a thorough review or an economic analysis. That power deal is a subject of a pending lawsuit.

Rep. Janet Maratita (IR-Saipan) said the public should continue to be more vigilant.

"I wonder what other contracts or agreements are being negotiated. If it were not for media reports about the $80-million ferry, we might not even know there were communications about it. Who knows, it may still continue later on," said Maratita, one of the co-authors of a defeated resolution impeaching the governor for allegations of corruption, neglect of duty and felony.

Rep. Ray Tebuteb (IR-Saipan) said he's relieved to hear that the administration is not pursuing the $80-million ferry because of a lack of a feasibility study conducted on it.

Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan) and Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) also separately said earlier that it's about time the administration does something right by not signing major contracts without conducting and completing economic studies.

Press secretary Angel Demapan said the CNMI has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to examine the feasibility of expansion of marine passenger and cargo services in the CNMI. The study is expected to be completed during the early part of 2013.

But lawmakers said once that study is done and recommends marine passenger and cargo services, the administration may go back to the vendors of the $80-million ferry in Alaska.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP) earlier said it is "insulting" that the CNMI people would know about the $80-million ferry from newspapers on the mainland.

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