CNMI tightens belt, cuts work hours

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(PNC file photo)

“This is the most prudent option in order to protect our employees and safeguard public services from more drastic alternatives.”

– CNMI Gov. Ralph DLG Torres

If you think we have it bad here on Guam, just look at what our neighbors to the north are experiencing.

The CNMI government just announced the implementation of a 72-hour work schedule due to the continuing adverse effects of Super Typhoon Yutu.

According to CNMI Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, the new work schedule will begin with the pay period that starts on June 23, 2019.

Under the CNMI governor’s directive, business hours for departments and agencies under the executive branch will be closed every “payday” Friday beginning on July 5, 2019 until further notice.

In addition, the Office of Personnel Management has been directed to work with all departments and agencies to ensure that all civil, excepted and exempted service employees are properly notified and advised of the modified work schedule.

Governor Torres said this is a very difficult decision, but it is necessary in order to protect government employees from other more drastic options that would have more severe impacts and to ensure that government obligations and services remain stable.

He added that financial recovery remains at the top of his administration’s efforts, so that they can eventually revert back to a normal 80-hour work schedule.

“Lt. Governor Palacios and I appreciate all our government employees for their patience during these financial challenges and for their continued commitment to serve the people of the Marianas,” Torres said in a statement sent to PNC News.

The 72-hour work schedule will be applied to all locally-funded and federally-funded government employees, both civil service and excepted service, under the executive branch.

Formal letters of notice will be issued by the respective department and agency heads with concurrences from the Director of Personnel and the Attorney General.

Critical government functions, particularly law enforcement, first responders, and treasury cashiers, will adopt a modified 72-hour work schedule to meet certain needs and requirements, as well as maintain the efficacy of essential public services.

The Governor’s directive also implements additional austerity measures, which include no accrual and payment of overtime and compensatory time hours for all employees and no new hiring for locally funded positions within the departments and agencies under the Executive Branch until further notice.

Challenging

“While revenue collections continue to be challenging following the impact of Super Typhoon Yutu, it is clear that revenue at the current levels will not be sufficient to fund government payroll on an 80-hour work schedule,” said Lt. Governor Arnold I. Palacios.

Governor Torres added: “In order to minimize the impact on people’s lives, we have decided to go with a 72-hour work schedule which would give us the means and resources to take us through the remainder of FY 2019. This option avoids payless paydays, allows the government to continue fulfilling its obligations to the Settlement Fund for our retirees and to our bond payments, and ensures payments to vendors. This is the most prudent option in order to protect our employees and safeguard public services from more drastic alternatives.”

Because of Super Typhoon Yutu’s devastating impact on the CNMI’s economic activity and government revenue, the Torres administration had already reduced the budget by $29.9 million and implemented cost-containment measures to keep operational expenses and obligation payments stable.

Governor Torres noted that the administration and the Legislature leadership already met to discuss the current fiscal conditions of the government and agreed to continue providing solutions to improve the CNMI’s financial condition for the long-term.

“The administration and the Legislature’s leadership fully understand the effects Super Typhoon Yutu had on government revenues, and we agreed to continue to work hard for our people to ensure the full recovery of our economy and our community. We will remain proactive in our approach and look for solutions to our financial challenges,” Governor Torres said.

Lt. Governor Palacios also thanked the Legislature for their cooperation to address these fiscal challenges collaboratively.

“We thank the Legislature’s leadership for truly understanding the reasons for the revenue shortfall and for agreeing to provide solutions. Our recovery requires us to move beyond politics and toward a solution that gets all of our employees paid and puts the government back to a strong financial condition. I’m glad the Legislature’s leadership is committed to working with us for our people,” he said.

Governor Torres and Lt. Governor Palacios called for a Cabinet meeting to formally inform the Executive Branch of this adjusted work schedule.

“Our administration has determined a collective approach to addressing these challenges head-on, and we will continue to not sit idle and let the problems of today define our future, because that is not what a responsible government should do. We appreciate the collaboration by the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of the Attorney General as we implement this new work schedule to stabilize our finances. Economic and financial recovery are at the forefront of our policy initiatives, so that we can return to normalcy.”