Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Covenant 902 Talks

902 TalksSeated left: David Cohen. Seated right: Governor Benigno Fitial. Standing left to right: James Benedetto, Tim Villagomez, Senate President Mendiola, Speaker Oscar Babauta, AG Matthew Gregory, and OIA Field Rep. Jeff Schorr.

From a CNMI government press release:

902 Consultations Yield Consensus on Basic Principles
In the first round of Covenant 902 talks, Governor Benigno R. Fitial and Deputy Assistant Secretary David B. Cohen reached agreement on core principles that should guide federal policy in the CNMI. These principles, articulated by Mr. Cohen in his testimony before the US Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources last month, involve five key points that should guide the discussion of any legislation to federalize the CNMI immigration system:

1. National security and homeland security issues must be properly addressed.
2. Any major change in federal policy should “minimize damage to the CNMI economy and maximize the potential for future economic growth.”
3. The federal government and the CNMI government must ensure that foreign workers are adequately protected and not vulnerable to abuse.
4. The federal government should carefully evaluate the impact of any major policy change, although the evaluation should occur expeditiously.
5. The people of the CNMI should fully participate in the discussion of any major federal policy change regarding labor & immigration.

The US Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee recently requested the Department of the Interior to prepare a draft of legislation that would federalize the CNMI immigration system. The deadline for the draft submission is April 30.

In his 902 opening statement, Governor Fitial expressed grave concern for the likely economic impact of proposed federal legislation, saying:

The economic viability of our Commonwealth is in grave jeopardy. Globalization and expanded free trade have decimated our manufacturing base, our Japanese tourism market is in decline, and the Federal government may unilaterally revoke our economic tools under our Covenant agreement. This is all taking place at a time when the CNMI government is experiencing a major financial challenge that may necessitate the implementation of deeper financial cuts, including mass layoffs. Through these 902 consultations, I am asking the federal government to provide strong support for CNMI border control and security while still ensuring the CNMI’s ability to continue remaining self-sufficient through the economic tools provided by the Covenant. We do not want to be dependent on the US Treasury for economic support.

Cohen acknowledged the CNMI’s need for continued access to its vital customer base and assured the CNMI government that the federal government would explore the feasibility of proposals to ensure that the CNMI remains accessible to critical customers such as tourists, students, retirees, investors, and medical patients.

In furtherance of the fourth principle listed above, Cohen announced that he had approved Governor Fitial’s request for a $75,750 grant to prepare a comprehensive assessment of the CNMI economy and a forecast to 2010. “The timing of this study will not slow down the schedule for Interior to prepare draft legislation for the Senate, or the Senate’s timetable for introducing a bill,” said Cohen. “However, we are exploring ways in which any new federal immigration policy for the CNMI could be flexible enough to account for the results of this type of analysis when such results become available.”

After two days of consultations, Fitial described the 902 dialogue as “positive and constructive.”

“David and I agree to engage in positive collaboration to protect the continued economic viability of our islands,” said the Governor. “We agree on general principles and we agree to discuss the draft of federal legislation affecting the CNMI.”

Although there is general agreement on basic principles guiding federal policy in the CNMI, the complexity would rest in the specific details of any federalization proposal.

“We agree on the general principles, but we have yet to reach agreement on the specific application of those principles,” said Fitial, who is eager to see “the long-range perspective, the layout, as well as the specific mechanics of the bill.”

In keeping with the principle of including the CNMI’s participation in the process, Cohen solicited the CNMI’s input for the federal government’s meaningful consideration. “Interior will have to be the ultimate arbiter of what to include in the draft, because it is our obligation to be responsive to the Senate’s request,” said Cohen. “However, we very much welcome the CNMI’s input and intend to consider it very seriously.”

“I’m very hopeful that this collaborative partnership between the CNMI government and the federal government will enable the CNMI to build a stronger, more prosperous and more just society,” said Cohen.

Governor Benigno R. Fitial began Covenant Section 902 consultations with the Bush administration Tuesday morning. Lt. Governor Timothy P. Villagomez and Attorney General Matthew Gregory joined Fitial. House Speaker Oscar Babauta and Senate President Joseph Mendiola also joined the discussion at the invitation of the Governor.

These are the first 902 consultations to include the direct participation of both the Governor and the Lt. Governor, as well as the presiding officers of the Legislature.

David B. Cohen, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior for Insular Affairs, represented the Bush administration. Jeff Schorr, CNMI field representative for the US Department of Interior, and James Benedetto, the federal labor ombudsman, joined Cohen in the 902 consultations for the federal side.

The 902 talks were held on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Fiesta Resort & Spa. Both parties agreed to resume 902 consultations in late April.
The Saipan Tribune reprinted this government press release word for word while the Marianas Variety chose to write an article using some of the information from the press release. I have mixed feelings about that. Is a newspaper supposed to report the news or is it supposed to be a bulletin board for government (some would say propaganda) information? On the one hand, reprinting the press release verbatim gets government information to the populace without any sort of filter; on the other hand, copying and pasting is lazy at best and lacks integrity at worst. Are the papers supposed to report the news or just fill their pages?

Like I said, I have mixed feelings. The papers don't always get their facts straight before they publish a story, so the best way to avoid any inaccuracies is to provide them with a press release. I think that reprinting a press release from community groups is fine, it can let readers know about upcoming events and what not, but it makes me uneasy when government propaganda is passed along to the community as if it were a news article.


Joe said...

Q: "Are the papers supposed to report the news or just fill their pages?"

A: Fill their pages with government propoganda. You can't bite the hand that feeds you (take a look at how much the govt. spends on each medium).

With that said, how much can we save if we used the "public airwaves" for announcements and printed notices on individual agencies' "news bulletins" or their "official websites"?

Any idears???

KAP said...

Any newspaper that only uses a press release on an important subject should be used to line a birdcage. There are always going to be some questions that should be asked and the answers will not be volunteered.

If a newpaper inserts their opinion into any story they should identify it plainly as an opinion piece.

Of course, if we just had a government paper it wouldn't even be an issue, would it?