President of Palau to visit Guam

KOROR, Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. is due to arrive in Guam on May 9, where he will attend an in-person meeting with U.S. officials

Whipps will attend for the first time the Joint Committee Meeting from May 10 to 12, where defense and security issues are part of the dialogue with U.S. government and military officials.

The two nations typically discuss bilateral defense exercises and any issues affecting the health or working conditions of Palauans living in the U.S. mainland,

At a news conference on May 7, Whipps said the in-person meeting is also historic because the Palau president usually doesn’t take part in the JCM, but due to the invite of the U.S. government, he will be attending this one. He did not share the specific agenda.

“This is our first JCM, and there has not been a JCM since last year. There is supposed to be a meeting two times a year and the purpose of the meeting is to really strengthen cooperation of the two countries on issues of defense and security and discuss issues of mutual interest; after the meetings we usually have joint statements,” Whipps said.

He said the meeting is important, especially given the close relationship of Palau and the United States.

Whipps and his delegation will be traveling in a “bubble” to Guam to ensure minimum risk of infection. On island, the delegation will restrict movement, and only travel between their accommodation and meetings.

The delegation will be the only passengers on the flight to Guam; the return trip will be the same, he said. Whipps and delegation members are fully vaccinated.

The president will be joined by cabinet members responsible for finance, infrastructure and industry as well as national security and health.

Carlotta Leon Guerrero, chief advisor to Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero on military and region affairs, confirmed to the Journal that Whipps and the governor will meet on May 10. Inevitably, Carlotta Leon Guerrero said the two will discuss how Palau is fairing on typhoon recovery, and the Micronesian Island Forum, particularly a meeting schedule. “[Palau is] very much in the driver’s seat on pulling these things together.”

While they will not quarantine upon their return to Palau, Whipps and his delegation will undergo COVID tests before they leave Guam.


Guam fatalities were not vaccinated

Guam saw its139th COVID- related fatality on May 6.

Dr. Hoa Nguyen of American Medical Center, also a member of the governor’s Physicians Advisory Council, told the Journal that none of the COVID fatalities had been vaccinated.

About 52% of the island’s population are vaccinated, he said, but attendance at vaccination sites has begun to drop.

Guam will soon begin vaccinating children aged 12 and up, he said, but is hoping that vaccination clinics will open from 5 p.m. to 8 parents will have to be present, and most of those work.

Dr. Michael Cruz, CEO of Guam Regional Medical City, state surgeon and the governor’s chief medical adviser, was also aware that none of the COVID fatalities had been vaccinated. “That’s really unfortunate,” he said. Cruz told the Journal that groups of 50 or more at a business – or any group, could be vaccinated at a specific location, like an office by one of the vaccination Strike Forces of the Guam National Guard.

The island’s first fatality was on March 22, 2020. The island received its first doses of vaccine on Dec. 15, 2020.


Saipan to welcome Korean advance flight; streamline construction bumps

Warren Villagomez, chairman of the COVID-19 task force for the Northern Mariana Islands said an advance group from Korea will arrive June 15, with the first official flight scheduled for July. Speaking at a news conference on May 7, he said, “This group is just a familiarization group from Korea; July is the actual tourists.” The group is comprised of media and government officials, he said.

Esther L. Muna, CEO of the Commonwealth Health Corp., said that the group would be quarantined for six days, but there might be circumstances that would allow them to leave the Kanoa Resort quarantine facility during that time.

Torres announced Marianne Concepcion-Teregeyo secretary of the Northern Mariana Islands Department of Public Lands will lead the new Infrastructure and Recovery Office as coordinator. The office is designed to fast-track the process as the NMI ramps up construction and federal funding floods into the NMI.

“We’ll be having a full office of engineers,” Torres said. These would be able to help with any issues, he said. “We’ll get their advice on construction projects.”

The governor also said as far as raising the cap on CW workers for the NMI, “It’s not a want; it’s a need.”


NMI has plans for ARPA funding than $500 million ARPA funding

The Northern Mariana Islands is anticipating more than $500 million as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. 

Finance secretary David DLG Atalig, secretary of the Department of Finance said, “I just want to be clear so that people understand, it’s not just $500 million coming in, we can do whatever we want. There’s four major areas that we can spend this money on. The state cannot use this money for any pension obligation or pension funding, [nor] to subsidize the reduction in tax.”

He was speaking to the general membership of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce on May 5 at the Hyatt Regency Saipan.

Of the $507 million the CNMI is anticipating from ARPA, $483 million will go towards state fiscal recovery; $5 million to local fiscal recovery for non-entitlement units of local government; $10 million to local fiscal recovery for counties, and $9 million to capital project funds.

Atalig, however, stressed that all figures presented are NMI calculations, and not official numbers from the U.S. Treasury. Currently, estimates from the U.S. House Committee on Oversight [also, not final allocations] pegs at $5,114,952.50 the ARPA allotment for the NMI.

Source: NMI Department of Finance

For the state fiscal recovery, or Section 602 of Subtitle M of the ARPA, Atalig said there is about $4.5 billion that will be divided up by the five territories – American Samoa, Guam, the NMI, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Half the money will be equally allocated to the territories, estimated to be $450 million each. The other half will be allocated based on population, where the NMI expects to receive $32,730,250. This would give the commonwealth total funding of about $482,730,250, $141,546,050 of which will be allocated for fiscal 2021 and $341,184,200 for fiscal 2022.

“We got to take care of healthcare; public health is here. We got to make sure we take care and mitigate the COVID response. We can also pay premium pay to our front liners. and we can also use these funds for lost revenue due to the pandemic,” Atalig said.

Of the funding, 21%, or $100 million will be used to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality, Atalig said.

Some $30 million, or 6%, will be used to provide premium pay to eligible workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency, or to provide grants to eligible employers that have eligible workers who perform essential work. Then, about 21%, or $102,730,250, will be used towards necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.

The remaining more than half of the allocation, at 52% for about $250 million, is for the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the COVID-19 public health emergency relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year prior to the pandemic.

“Majority of that – the 52%, is what we’re using out of this whole funding just to get the government back to pre-COVID numbers, and budget the government so that we can provide the services, bring back the workers, get off austerity so that people have more money in their pockets to be able to go out and [spend money, and] contribute to the economy,” Atalig said.

“Not only that – we need the people to come back. We have a lot of projects that we’re working on and we need to ensure that projects are moving forward,” he said.

Source: CNMI Department of Finance


For the local fiscal recovery funds allocation, or Section 603, Atalig said that based on their calculations, the NMI is estimating about $13.1 million from the ARPA, to be divided among the municipalities of Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and the Northern Islands, following a formula from the U.S. Congress. This funding can be used for the same purposes as with Section 602, but for the municipalities.

Further, for capital improvement projects, under Section 604, the Department of Finance estimates that about $14 million will be coming into the NMI, again to be distributed to the municipalities, to carry out critical capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options, in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Source: CNMI Department of Finance

“We’re going to need a lot of assistance and help from our private sector to get this money spent. There’s a lot of money to be spent, there’s a lot of money for projects that are coming up. The governor has signed an Executive Order to create an Office of Recovery and Infrastructure. This office would be strictly helping moving projects,” Atalig said.

The finance secretary also said he has a detailed plan and is just waiting for the U.S. Treasury’s guidance on how to report the spending plan, which they are scheduled to provide by May 10, so the NMI can get the funding.

“We’re going to be heading for transferring 50% of the total [allocated] amount, and the other 50% next year, Feb. 10. We have until December of 2024 to spend this money. … We don’t know if there will be any extensions on using it but we’re planning to spend it by December 2024.”


Vaccine tourism

Members of the Guam Visitors Bureau Recovery Task Force held a virtual meeting on May 7.  In attendance were Carl T.C. Gutierrez, president and CEO of GVB, Nadine Leon Guerrero, director of Global Marketing, and Samuel V. Shinohara,  managing director of airport operations for the Asia Pacific for United Airlines.

The group discussed the concept of “Vaccine Tourism,” currently being referred to as “Air V&V.” Vaccine Tourism would encourage travelers to visit Guam to get vaccinated. Members of the task force view the idea as an opportunity to provide humanitarian support and stimulate economic recovery. Immediate benefits would include jump-starting the tourism value chain, expanding business activity at restaurants and hotels, and revenue from non-government funding sources. The idea of Vaccine Tourism on Guam targets U.S. citizens living or traveling abroad in Asia. The GVB has asked the governor to provide 1,500 vaccine doses for a pilot program, and a few local pharmacies and clinics are currently being vetted to administer vaccines.

“We are trying to let people know worldwide that Guam is moving forward with this concept of Air V&V,” said Carl Gutierrez, President and CEO of Guam Visitor’s Bureau.

Implementation of Vaccine Tourism may depend on the government’s entry protocols on Guam. Existing protocols require a 14-day quarantine for all incoming travelers, although that may change with the proposed reopening on May 15. The members of the Recovery Task Force are in the process of discussing all possible scenarios.

 During the meeting, Recovery Task Force members also discussed their community messaging campaign, which utilizes authority figures, peers, and influences to encourage members of the community to get vaccinated, the process for local businesses to apply for the Guam Safe Certified and World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Safe Travels Stamp, and upcoming vaccination clinics.


Businesses signing on for Safe Travels designation

On May 6 the Guam Visitor’s Bureau hosted a virtual joint membership meeting, in partnership with the Guam Hotel & Restaurant Association and the Guam Chamber of Commerce. The event’s primary speaker was Gerald S.A. Perez, vice president of the Guam Visitors Bureau.

He spoke about the Guam Safe Certified and World Travel & Tourism Council Safe Travels Stamp. Guam Safe Certified is the official local designation that identifies businesses that are compliant with government health and safety guidelines. The WTTC Safe Travels Stamp is a global safety and hygiene stamp. GVB is the official organization to implement these protocols and issue the Safe Travels Stamp to businesses in Guam. Perez encouraged businesses to apply for these certifications.

“It’s pretty easy, actually, to get certified for those businesses,” he said. “You just go to the website we have and the fill out the application form, uploading your business, and then once the application and reopening protocols have been verified by [the Guam Department of] Public Health and GHRA, you will receive an email from GVB and a zip file containing the Guam Safe Certified and WTTC “Safe Travels” logo package and branding guidelines.”

Turn-around is quick, ranging from a few days to a week. The goal with these programs is to have a significant number of approved businesses, which will ensure visitors that the island and its businesses are safe and following hygiene protocols. So far, more than 90 applications have been submitted, and 85 have been approved.

In addition to Guam Safe Certified and WTTC Safe Travels Stamp, GVB has three strategic initiatives for reopening the island to tourists, including scaling up vaccinations, preparing the destination by beautification projects, creating safe experiences, and an enhanced communications strategy to promote vaccinations in the local community and promote travel aspirations for Guam as a destination.


Economic Updates


The Restaurant Revitalization fund:

As of May 5, the U.S. Small Business Administration advised the following information on applications it had received for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund:

  • 186,200 applications from restaurants, bars, and other eligible businesses in “all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and five U.S. territories.” 
  • 97,600 applications which came from restaurants, bars, and other eligible businesses owned and controlled by women (46,400), veterans (4,200), socially and economically disadvantaged individuals (30,800), or some combination of the three (16,200). 
  • 61,700 applications from businesses with under $500,000 in annual pre-pandemic revenue, representing some of the smallest restaurants and bars in America.  


Moody’s latest rating for Guam:

Moody’s Investor Service announced May 4 that the outlook on Guam’s General Fund credit ratings has been revised to “stable” from “negative,” or (Ba1 stable). The raising of Guam’s rating is the highest in 20 years and will also apply to the Guam Waterworks Authority’s outstanding bonds, according to the Guam Economic Development Authority.  Guam’s rating outlook had been changed in May 2020, due to the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the General Fund and GWA’s fiscal condition.   

“The revision of the outlook to stable from negative reflects Guam’s improved fiscal outlook following the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, which includes additional direct federal government assistance to the government of Guam as well as recurring revenue from annual federal reimbursements of the territory’s Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, which amounts to about $80 million, or 10% of general fund revenue, ” Moody’s said. mbj