Sunday, January 11, 2009

Camacho: ‘The enemy is us, not feds’

MONDAY, 12 JANUARY 2009 00:00

Former Gov. Carlos S. Camacho says CNMI leaders should stop blaming the federal government for the problems they themselves created.

The CNMI’s first governor, Carlos S. Camacho, and first lt. governor, Francisco C. Ada, pose with the members of the commonwealth’s first cabinet during a historic gathering on Friday.

“They blame everything on the federal government but the enemy is us…not the feds,” he said during the gathering on Friday of the members of the first commonwealth administration for a special luncheon that marked the 31st anniversary of the CNMI government.

The CNMI’s first governor, Camacho, and first lt. governor, Francisco C. Ada, reminisced over lunch at the Hafa Adai Hotel with 10 members of their administration.

Camacho, a medical doctor, and former NMI District Administrator Ada beat the Territorial — which later became known as the Republican — ticket of businessman Jose C. “Joeten” Tenorio and then-NMI District Legislature Vice Speaker Olympio T. Borja in the first CNMI election in Nov. 1977.

Camacho-Ada garnered 2,986 votes while Tenorio-Borja received 2,864.

On Jan. 9, 1978, Camacho and the rest of the CNMI leadership were sworn into office.

He failed to get re-elected in 1981 and lost to Republican Pedro P. Tenorio. In 1985, Camacho teamed up with now Saipan Mayor Juan B. Tudela but they lost to Tenorio and then-Lt. Gov. Pete A. Tenorio.

Camacho, in an interview on Friday, said he was disappointed that the first CNMI inauguration day had been “neglected.”

Asked what he considers his administration’s legacy, he said: “Government discipline. I am so proud to have worked with the best group that demonstrated the values of perseverance and hard work.”

He said he and Ada organized Friday’s gathering to show their appreciation for their cabinet officials.

“We’re getting old and some of us have already died,” said the 71-year-old Camacho. “After 31 long years, this is the first time and probably…the last for the group. We just wanted to see everybody.”

Camacho said their group has already lost five of their members, including the resident representatives for Rota and Tinian, as well as the directors for public safety and the CNMI hospital.

Executive department heads back then were headed by directors.


Camacho and Ada said they are saddened by the CNMI’s dismal conditions.

“Discipline is very important…and that’s what they’ve lost,” Camacho said.

“Problems cannot solely be blamed on others…. Now, they blame everything on the federal government,” he added.

Ada described the CNMI’s relation with the federal government during their time as “strong and excellent.”

The two former leaders welcome the federalization of local labor and immigration, saying “this is long overdue for the CNMI.”

They believed that the federalization lawsuit was filed because of “outside influence,” the current leadership’s inability to govern, greed and self-interest.

Ada said not a lot of their vetoes were overridden by the Legislature.

“There was cooperation and understanding between the executive and the lawmakers in our time,” he added.

Camacho said even though the CNMI had concerns with its relationship with Washington, D.C. “we didn’t fight the feds.

“There was a specific instance about food stamps that we we’re concerned about…but we didn’t quarrel with the feds,” the former governor recalled.

Camacho was governor from Jan. 1978 to Jan. 1982.

“We wanted to be known as the administration that laid the foundation for the CNMI,” he said. “We wanted the people to realize that we wanted to help them. We wanted to maintain our good relationship with the U.S. Congress and the rest of the federal government.”

Under his administration, he said telecommunications were privatized, the hospital and the international airport were built, the food stamp program was implemented, the Retirement Fund and Northern Marianas College were established.

Small government

The CNMI’s first director of finance and accounting, now Sen. Maria T. Pangelinan, D-Saipan, said the first CNMI budget amounted to $5 million.

“We had a small government,” she said.

“Everyone was very cooperative and there was discipline,” she added. “That was why we had a centralized channel of all information and it was very easy to work on the total financial picture of the government. Compared to what we’re experiencing at the present when it’s very hard to get actual data and financial information to make the best budget decision in setting goals for the government and making sure that taxpayers are being served properly.”

Back then, she said, there were fewer government employees and businesses.

“Fiscal management and government discipline” were the norm, she added.

“We underwent training during the transition period and there was a plan which we all followed,” she said. “But now, don’t have a plan which is very critical. The CNMI needs to have a plan — we have to have a roadmap to lead us where we’re going or we’ll get lost.”

Pangelinan believes that the CNMI should “reflect and start doing things right.”

800 employees

The CNMI’s first director of personnel, Felicitas Tee Abraham, said the government had 800 personnel at the time — compared to the over 4,000 it now employs.

She noted that the government is now “too loaded and too much.”

She said the administration then was focused on capacity-building of personnel.

Manuel A. Sablan, the CNMI’s first director of programs and budget, said Camacho worked closely with the federal government.

“We met constantly with the feds to see to it that we’re on the right track,” he said.

Sablan said the islands’ Covenant with the U.S. provided the tools to promote the islands’ economy.

Also attending the gathering were Isamu Abraham, the first director of public health; Vicente N. Santos, the director of political and public affairs; Jose C. Ayuyu, director of commerce and labor; Joaquin Q. DL. Guerrero, chief of administration; Francisco M. Diaz, the then-mayor of Saipan; Francisco Castro, director of immigration; Felix Sasamoto, director of the Emergency Management Office; and Soledad B. Sasamoto, the secretary of the lt. governor.

Also present were the CNMI’s former first lady Winnie P. Camacho, and Ines S. Ada, the wife of the former lt. governor.

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