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NMI Supreme Court answers certified question regarding public lands

(Press Release) — On Dec. 31, 2018, the local Supreme Court issued its opinion in Teregeyo v. San Nicolas, 2018 MP 17.

The court answered two certified questions submitted for review by petitioner, Department of Public Lands Secretary Marianne C. Teregeyo, and respondent, Mayor of Tinian Joey P. San Nicolas.

The first certified question asked the court to review whether the Free Trade Zones Act permitting mayors to administer public lands designated as free trade zones violates Article XI, Section 4 of the NMI Constitution. Section 4 mandates that the Marianas Public Land Corporation shall dissolve after 12 years and its functions transferred to the executive branch of government. Article XI, Section 3 sets out the functions of the corporation, namely “the management and disposition of public lands….”

The court found the language in Article XI required the management and disposition of public lands be within the central government’s control, for the benefit of the entire Commonwealth. Because mayors represent and are responsible to the local municipality rather than the entire Commonwealth, they fall outside the central government. Consequently, the Commonwealth Legislature could not take the administration of public lands away from the central government’s executive branch, and give this responsibility to a separate official without any central executive oversight. When 4 CMC § 51102(e) of the Free Trade Zone Act vested ultimate authority of the management and disposition of public lands with the Office of the Mayor, it violated Article XI of the NMI Constitution.

The second certified question asked whether mayors may collect and expend revenues from public lands designated as free trade zones without violating the NMI Constitution. The court declined to reach the merits of the second question because the Office of the Mayor later conceded that the law did not authorize mayors to keep funds generated from the administration of public lands.

The court’s full opinion is available at http://www.cnmilaw.org/supreme18.html.

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/109762-nmi-supreme-court-answers-certified-question-regarding-public-lands

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