Bank of Saipan received $500K from CNMI BOOST program
By Bryan Manabat
Saipan---The CNMI Building Optimism Opportunity and Stability Together, or BOOST, controversy has escalated to a fever pitch following a disclosure during a joint legislative committee's investigation that the Bank of Saipan, which administers the program, has applied for $1.5 million in grant funds and received $500,000.
BOS president John Arroyo testified before the Ways and Means Committee, and Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee Tuesday and Wednesday.
He told the committees that the application was reviewed by Wil Castro, Gov. Ralph Torres' chief of staff and a member of the BOOST panel.
Arroyo also told the legislators that he didn’t believe a conflict of interest existed with BOS applying for a BOOST grant since he didn't have the authority to decide on who would be awarded a grant.
“I thought we would be treated as a small business in the community. It would go through the panel, like everyone else, and they would make the decision on whether we were eligible and whether they would give us funds or not," he said.
Arroyo said the bank received two checks in the amount of $250,000 each.
Also testifying before the committees, Castro said approximately $17 million has been allocated to the BOOST program and more than 200 applicants have received the grants they applied for.
Besides Castro, other members of the review panel are Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig and Commerce Secretary Edward "Tofila" Deleon Guerrero.
BOOST applications are submitted to the Bank of Saipan, Castro said, as the program administrator.
Castro testified that when the application meets the requirements, it is transmitted to a panel for review. The panel makes the recommendation to the governor, who will either approve or deny it.
BOOST aims to provide financial assistance to CNMI businesses and nonprofit organizations. The intent of the program, according to the government, "is to support the viability of those businesses and the employment opportunities they offer residents of the CNMI, to further the government’s goal of a diverse economy, and to increase commonwealth tax revenues."
“Through BOOST, financial assistance is provided to local businesses and non-profit organizations in the form of grants and business coaching through counseling and training programs.”
The joint legislative investigation committee began its inquiry after the Torres administration has been accused of using the CNMI BOOST grant program to gain votes in his re-election bid for the top executive elected official of the commonwealth.