What do you call an honest politician? Unemployed.
Saipan — In 2010, after just eight months in office, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama resigned because — wait for it — he broke a campaign promise. He also apologized to the Japanese people, and blamed no one else for what he called his “failings.”
Here in the Northern Mariana Islands, it’s been seven months since the new administration and legislature were sworn in, but I don’t think any elected official will admit that, contrary to what they had promised the voting public, they cannot “solve” or “address” the CNMI’s problems despite their college degrees, the purity of their intentions, the goodness of their hearts or the enactment of new laws.
I don’t think any of them will dare say that they’re in over their heads. (And they are.)
But what if one of them did just that: admit publicly that s/he couldn’t fulfill his/her campaign pledges? This could be his/her speech:
“My dear people of our great Commonwealth, effective today at 5 p.m., I am resigning my elective post, which you have entrusted to me in the last election, and for which I will be eternally grateful. The only way to honor your trust is to admit, as I do now, that I am not worthy of it.
“Last year, I ran for office because I heard your clamor for better leaders — leaders you can trust — and a better, more responsive government. You sought relief from high prices, including utility rates. You demanded good paying jobs, preferably in the government. You said retirees should continue getting their pension checks; that the medical referral program and local Medicaid should be fully funded; that public education, the college, the trade school and scholarships should receive more funding.
“You wanted more paved roads, homestead lots, government-backed loans or grants, especially for households, small businesses and/or aspiring entrepreneurs.
“The list was long. But I agreed. You deserved them all, and more. So I asked for your support. I promised to ‘deliver’ and make things better for you.
“Today I tell you: the spirit and the flesh are more than willing, but the pocket is empty. Your government is broke. It is spending more than what it can collect.
“You did not vote for pay cuts, for job losses, for higher fees/taxes, for austerity measures, for budget cuts, for downsizing or deepening financial uncertainty. But these, more or less, are what you can expect in the next few months if the local economy doesn’t improve soon.
“You don’t need ‘new’ faces in the government or more educated officials who ‘listen to the people.’ To begin with, that’s how we all got sucked into this massive financial blackhole. Your elected officials always ‘listened’ to you. They ‘cared’ a lot for you. They gave or tried to give you what you wanted — what you demanded: good-paying jobs with regular pay hikes and benefits as well as a generous pension system. Low-cost this, and free that. All those things cost a lot of money, but you would rather not pay for any of them.
“You don’t need new leaders. What you need is to be reacquainted with basic arithmetic. Or at least to realize that your government is not exempted from it. If, for example, in this fiscal year, your government’s total obligations amount to $260 million, but it can only expect (or hope) to collect $170 million, then clearly $260 million minus $170 million equals $90 million we don’t have, no matter how often I listen to you, hold your hands, look deep into your eyes, and feel your pain.
“I and your other elected officials will have to prioritize and make choices that will anger some if not most of you.
“I can probably pay, in full, our retirees’ pensions and medical referrals — but I can only pay a portion of the government payroll and the government’s utility bills, among other obligations. I cannot hire all my supporters and/or provide them with government contracts. I cannot promise pay hikes or additional benefits for everyone. I cannot fully fund scholarships. But I’ll try my best to contribute to some of your never-ending fundraising campaigns.
“I’m sorry. Your elected officials are not magicians. And many of the laws we pass are mere words whose enforcement or implementation usually requires actual money, which we don’t have.
“No, we don’t need new leaders or even new laws. What we need are more tourists, and new investors so the local economy can finally recover and generate government revenue that can be spent — on voters.
“Until that happens, all I can do as your elected official is to blame my predecessors and other political opponents. Soon, you’ll get tired of my excuses. Perhaps you already are.
“My dear people of the CNMI, the problem with politics is not politicians, but politics itself. And the problems we usually associate with politics are not bugs, but features of the system.
“We know that in life, as the Rolling Stones would put it, we can’t always get what we want. But when politicians say we can, we believe them. And when they can’t fulfill their promises, we ask, ‘What’s wrong with them?’ when the question ought to be, ‘What’s wrong with us?’
“I am, in any case, grateful for the opportunity to serve you in the past seven months. It has cured me of politics. I will now try to make an honest living.”
Zaldy Dandan is the editor of the CNMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety. His fourth book, “If He Isn’t Insane Then He Should Be: Stories & Poems from Saipan,” is available on amazon.com/.