Hocog: Not the time for finger-pointing

ACTING Gov. Victor B. Hocog said on Wednesday that, weeks before the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the offices of its contractors, he informed Imperial Pacific International that there could be illegal workers at its construction site in Garapan.

He said some two months ago, the governor told him that federal authorities were investigating IPI’s contractors, specifically in connection with workers who entered the island as “tourists.”

“So I called the IPI management and met with them. I told them I was not pointing fingers at them or any of their contractors, but since IPI is affiliated with these contractors, it is only fair for me to ask them that if there was anything illegal these contractors were doing, they should let us know, and cease operations immediately and remove those people from the commonwealth,” Hocog said.

Victor Hocog

He said if IPI had listened to his advice, the problems that the casino investor is now facing could have been prevented.

“I don’t know if they took my word or not, but it opened a can of worms. The other side of it is that we must have a real and clear vision as to who is really doing illegal things. It’s not IPI. It’s their contractors. IPI is our investor and I asked them to help us convey this to their contractors. My message for them is if they don’t assist us, we will see everything go down. If that happens, their investment will be lost and other investments will suffer too and we will end up with nothing in the years to come.”

Hocog added, “We need to come together and work collaboratively by following the regulations and the laws. Obviously, they disregarded my advice, what I told them, so now they are facing all of these issues.”

But Hocog said this is not the time for finger-pointing.

“This is the time to work together to find solutions to all of these problems,” he added.

“We should all be concerned about the issues. We don’t want the CNMI to suffer because of these issues and because of not following the law. Let us not point fingers. I personally feel that no investor will incriminate itself. It’s between the investor and the contractor to discuss this internally and take care of this problem.

“What I want to find out is if IPI has already paid the contractor, if they have made advance payment and if the contractor is not paying their employees even though they have been paid by IPI. If that’s the case then why put the blame on IPI or why should IPI be the target of these accusations?”

Hocog said he also met with various airline companies and asked them to cooperate in removing aliens from the commonwealth if they are found to be illegally staying in the CNMI.

“In our meeting with the airlines, we told them that if this continues, bringing in tourists who overstay and work here illegally, we will give the carriers 45 days to transport these tourists back to where they came from or else we will not allow them to operate here,” Hocog said.

“Immigration is not on our side. It’s a federal matter, but we are moving forward to see if the feds can provide us with a little flexibility to ensure that we complete what we are undertaking today. Otherwise, we will have another eyesore like the former La Fiesta and what benefit can we get from an abandoned investment? So let’s give them a chance to complete the investment, but let’s also address the problems. We can’t just blame one investor and not those really responsible for all of this. Let’s get those who are responsible. We have to work together, and we can’t just keep on accusing and accusing without offering any solution.”

Hocog said extending IPI’s live training facility’s operation at T Galleria is in the best interests of the commonwealth.

He is also asking critics to give the investment a chance to establish itself first before imposing an additional tax.

“I think it is in the best interests of the commonwealth to provide the investment with ample time to make sure that they finish what they have started rather than leaving it the way it is — we can’t let that happen. If the extension is what they are asking to ensure the completion of their project then we must provide that,” he said in reaction to the Lottery Commission’s decision to grant IPI an extension of 16 months or until Aug. 31, 2018 to operate the live training facility and to complete the construction of the casino portion of the Imperial Pacific resort project.

Hocog said he also understands those who want to collect more revenue from the casino industry, but he added that the investment has to be stable first to ensure that it can consistently generate revenue for the CNMI.

“We have to understand that when we first initiated the Saipan casino legislation we thought about doing the same taxing system used for the Tinian casino, but the magnitude of the IPI investment was large and we had a lot of compelling issues and problems that needed to be addressed immediately, and foremost of them was the Retirement Fund. That’s why in the course of the negotiations with IPE, we asked that the investor pay $30 million up front to take care of the pension problem. We also hoped that when the casino opened it would generate enough revenue to take care of the retirement and other problems ahead of us, including the 100 percent pension of retirees.

“They assisted us during the time when we had nothing, so I think we should give them ample time before imposing a bigger tax. We are not saying that we will not come back and ask for more, but let’s give them the chance first to establish their business so that we will not experience what we experienced years ago. Without this investment, where do you think the retirees would be? Where do you think the government employees would be? But because of this investment, we are able to sustain government operations and we are not experiencing a reduction of hours, no more furloughs and austerity measures.

“Now that we have realized additional revenues from this investor, let us give them time to stabilize their business so they will be able to generate more revenues for us in the future,” Hocog said.

In the meantime, he added, “let’s work with the investor and ensure that their contractors follow the law. I don’t want these contractors to jeopardize the investment after all that has been done to make it a reality.”

Source: Marianas Variety :

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