Saipan-- The CNMI has lost potential investors due a maze-like permitting process, which the commonwealth government is now seeking to simplify in a bid create a business-friendly environment that will pave the way for the commonwealth's economic recovery, CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres said.
"We have been looking at ways to streamline the process during this time of economic recovery," Torres said.
The Governor’s Council on Economic Advisers has also identified the difficulties with the permitting process as a critical issue in the ability of the commonwealth to see new investment.
The administration recently created a CNMI Permitting Agency Working Group to identify the internal and external issues involved with the permitting process.
Senior Policy Advisor Robert Hunter said some of the issues that sometimes delay the process can be dealt with through a change in internal policy.
“Some of the issues with the process are tied to law, and we need to review these and make recommendations to our legislature. We also need to work with federal partners involved in the process to ensure timely action on their end, and we will be communicating with them to discuss possible reasonable windows of time for action,” Hunter said.
Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios said the administration plans to set up a clear process that can be accessed remotely and remove redundancies such as having to submit the same documents to several agencies.
"Applicants and permitting agencies should be able to know where exactly a permit application is in the process, what documents or actions are required of the applicant or permitting agency at any given point during the process, and that the process be presented in a way that is easily understandable and navigable," he said.
Administration officials said they have been working with individuals in the tech community to discuss the development of an online portal. An applicant can get on, initiate their application online, submit all of the documents necessary online, track their application as it makes its way through each of the permitting agency’s review process, provide real-time notifications of additional document needs, issues, or required actions, and that is easily utilized and understandable.
“Beyond just a ‘permitting portal,’ we are looking at tying into the portal a number of peripheral applications necessary to doing business in the CNMI, including business licensing application, zoning applications, Department of Public Works permit applications, occupancy permit applications, Commerce-based employee-insurance and other applications, and also the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy System," Hunter said.
“We have often discussed a ‘one-stop shop’ for business licensing and permitting. The reality is, a physical space that is adequately staffed is a difficult proposition and may not be ideal. We can accommodate this ‘one-stop shop’ through an online platform, a ‘business and permitting portal,’ that can capture nearly the entirety of business licensing and permitting needs. We are also looking at linking this portal with existing processes such as the Commonwealth Development Authority and the Small Business Development Center,” Hunter added.
Torres said the administration is looking at all of the various agencies that carry out GIS mapping to develop a consolidated map that identifies public lands, environmentally sensitive areas, historically sensitive areas, wetlands, and zoning information.
He noted this consolidated map will also be tied into the portal, so that investors, developers, and the government, can stave off issues related to designation of certain properties, early in the process.
“The ultimate goal, as it always has been, is to make it easy to do business in the Marianas. Our economy is run by our small businesses and investors who help us diversify our economic industries beyond tourism," Torres said. "We can then become much more resilient as an island community moving forward and better provide services for our people.”