Friday, February 08, 2008

Fitial Will Testify in DC

Fitial ready to testify in DC vs federalization, wage hike
Friday February 8, 2008
By Moneth G. Deposa, Variety News Staff

GOVERNOR Benigno R. Fitial is “ready, willing and able” to go to Washington, D.C. if the U.S. Congress wants him to testify regarding legislation concerning the CNMI.

Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. said after the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee reported out the federalization bill, the governor immediately sent a letter to the U.S. senators reiterating his opposition against the legislation’s passage.

“The governor has always expressed his willingness to go to D.C. to tell our side of the story and file our position,” Reyes told Variety. “He wants to explain our situation here, educate members of the U.S. Congress about our current economic situation. He is very much ready, willing and able to go and provide testimony anytime the U.S. members want him to.”

The administration has yet to receive any invitation from the U.S. Congress, but Reyes said Fitial already has a “well-equipped” testimony.

He said the administration supports the creation of a CNMI congressional delegate seat, but it should not be included in the federalization bill.

“(The delegate seat) should come first — a seat at the table before our fate is decided,” he said. “It’s not really reasonable to do it after the fact. For us, we prefer a seat at the table first and later on deliberate on the federalization bill after we’ve given our position in the process.”

Reyes said Fitial is also willing to testify in favor of H.R. 5154, which was introduced by American Samoa Congressman Eni Faleomavaega.

Faleomavaega wants the U.S. Department of Labor to determine if further increases in the minimum wage of the CNMI and American Samoa will have an adverse impact on their economies.

“We will continue to appeal to U.S. Congress for the sake of our economy,” Reyes said. “We look forward to an opportunity to testify in any hearings regarding the CNMI.”

Although the administration has an existing consultancy contract in the U.S., Reyes said “they are not there to block the federalization legislation but to bring more awareness about the commonwealth.”

He added, “It is still very important that the governor is given the chance to provide the information as needed and not rely only on the Washington representative. We need a broad consensus on this issue and, ideally, stakeholders should be consulted in a democratic process.”

CNMI officials testified regarding the federalization bill before the U.S. Senate committee in Washington, D.C. early last year, and again before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, which held a field hearing here in August.

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