CNMI governor’s trip for YouTube show comes under scrutiny

Governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres

CNMI Governor Ralph Torres’ trip to the northern islands as part of a segment for the YouTube show “Deer Meat for Dinner,” was scrutinized by the CNMI legislature last week.

CNMI Rep. Tina Sablan raised concerns over the governor’s recent trip while the body heard the budget proposed by the Marianas Visitors Authority for the next fiscal year.

While the tourism agency reported it was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and had to furlough 23 out of 34 employees, suspend merit increases, and freeze hiring, Sablan asked how the agency found the funding for the project.

MVA Managing Director Priscilla Iakopo said they received funding from the Department of Finance and that the proposal came from the Office of the Governor.

“These are pretty dire conditions. How did MVA find the money for the Deer Meat for Dinner trip to the northern islands?” Sablan asked.

Secretary of Finance David Atalig confirmed that around $59,000 was transferred to MVA from the hotel occupancy tax collections owed to the agency.

Sablan then asked what expenses were paid out using the government money?

“We covered the charter, the charter boats, fuel, meals, and materials,” Iakopo said.

Sablan said the Governor was shown in a video introducing deer to Pagan. She asked Iakopo to clarify it that was part of the contract.

Iakopo said, “the way it was introduced was an eco-tourism opportunity.”

Sablan asked for a copy of the contract.

Promote eco-tourism

“Deer  Meat for  Dinner”   has  82,000  Facebook followers,  113,000  Instagram followers, and 3,500 followers on Twitter, according to a press release from MVA.

The YouTube series features host Robert Arrington hunting, fishing, diving, and cooking wild game.

“During Mr. Arrington’s visit to the Marianas, he and his team will be traveling to the Northern Islands including Saipan and Tinian,  in an effort to further promote the richness, pristine, and natural wonders our islands have to offer,” said Iakopo in the release.  “As the Marianas looks forward to recovering from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, one of our main focus is to further promote eco-tourism. Through this project, we will be able to showcase a variety of eco-tourism activities to a wide audience.”

Arrington first visited Rota in 2018.