New CNMI governor vows to sweep the mess left by the previous administration
By Bryan Manabat
Saipan-- Noting the dismal state of the commonwealth's fiscal health and the potential consequences of the current crisis, Gov. Arnold Indalecio Palacios said, "We will lead by example."
Palacios, and Lt. Gov. David Apatang were sworn into office Monday morning at the Multi-purpose Center in Susupe.
"We are all in to rebuild trust, restore confidence, and to bring back integrity and credibility to our government," Palacios said in his inaugural address.
Constituents called for fiscal responsibility propelled Palacios and Apatang of the Independent Party, into the highest elected executive office in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Both Palacios and Apatang have long-standing government careers as public servants.
"We take pride in the work and the things that we did, and we do in the name of public service and public interest," Palacios said.
"Seriously, we thought we would be sitting back and enjoying retirement for a second time, but what we saw, more than a year ago, compels us to reconsider, the commonwealth was facing a moment of crisis and in need of credible leadership," he said.
Palacios, 67, is the 10th CNMI governor, and Apatang, 74, is the 13th lt. governor.
According to Palacios, the task before them have no easy answers.
"No quick fixes, just plain old hard work and sacrifices. We are aware and prepared to work harder than we ever work before. [We will] do what it takes, to right and sail and to navigate to a better future for the Commonwealth... in doing so we will be honest on what we are doing, while we are doing it, and what we hope to achieve," Palacios said.
"The growing evidence," Palacios said, "unfortunately, of squandering of tax dollars, with disaster recovery efforts incomplete, and the continuing global health pandemic that taken an unimaginable toll on our economy and our lives, the alarm went off on the need to reign in excess government spending and to use public funds wisely."
The arrogant use of power never amounts to any good, he added.
"The people saw through the attempts to hide, what greed and corruption had sown, and in recent days the revelation in the much-advertised Building Optimism Opportunity and Stability Together or BOOST program may have given us a glimpse of the scale of mismanagement and irresponsible use of public funds," said Palacios.
He said he is dismayed by the emerging facts about the state of the commonwealth's finances. "The potential consequences for the commonwealth we should be aware of, our people deserve so much better," Palacios said.
Palacios said he and Apatang are prepared to take charge and rebuild the trust of the people in the government.
"To get back to fiscal stability we must do so by exercising, fiscal discipline, leading by example is not a problem, for David and myself. We are both known for our frugal ways. We don't look for luxury, travel, or extravagant expenses, for fixtures that are unnecessary. We don't use public service and resources for personal or leisure time, the time to live within our means has truly come, we will work closely with our legislators to push through initiatives to stabilize the fiscal health of our government."
Palacios also pledged that his administration will review past use of public funds, and will pursue with the assistance of the Attorney General's Office and the Office of the Public Auditor the options of recoupment.
"We have looked back, we have set our bearings, and in our hearts and minds, what we know, what we need to do, and where we are heading. We are ready to move forward.to face the challenges, and to sail the commonwealth proa to the rough waters ahead," Palacios added.
Apatang said he and Palacios are "seasond politicians."
"From years and years of experience in politics, our conduct and temperament have matured and mutuality of respect island will always be the strictest guiding principle we will abide by," Apatang added.
In assuming office, Apatang said the administration will immediately face a myriad of challenges, issues, demands and opposition.
"Gov. Palacios and I will look at these challenges straight in the eye, and work together to remove them. The legislature will be involved every step of the way, and Gov. Palacios and I will value their input," he said.
"There will be no 'me' alone in your Palacios-Apatang administration," said the lt. governor. "It will always be 'we' and we are all in this together. You, residents of and business owners in the commonwealth, deserve nothing less."
According to Apatang, the new administration will begin the term with many pressing issues such as deteriorating infrastructures, inflation, labor, depleting federal aid, mounting debts and deficit, job uncertainty in the market and struggling travel industry among others.
"We will find answers that work for many of our challenges. It will take a partnership to do so, and we pledge to work alongside the legislature and the public that have a stake in overcoming challenges and improving our lives," Apatang said.
The Palacios-Apatang tandem garnered a total of 7,304 votes in a runoff last November, winning against former Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and his running mate, former Sen. Vinnie Sablan, of the Republican Party, who garnered 6,263 votes.
Among other dignitaries that attended the event are American Samoa Delegate to the U.S. congress, Amata Radewaggen, Guam Gov. Lourdes Leon Guerrero, Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr., U.S. Attorney Sean Anderson, U.S. defense officials and local businessmen.