NMI to seek appraisal of value; will introduce DOL work search requirement in August

David DLG Atalig, secretary of finance said the NMI will seek an updated valuation of the NMI, funded through a $363,000 grant. He told the Journal it will encourage investors and will give the NMI an easier time than it had some six years ago with pension obligation bonds.

The current valuation of the NMI at $1.2 billion is based on the 2000 census, Atalig said. “The commonwealth is worth more than $1.2 billion.”

In addition, he said, “We are capped at 10% of our real value.” Legislation was required to amend Article X of the Constitution to allow the pension obligation bonds to exceed 10% to fund the NMI Retirement Fund.

A Request for Proposals will be issued Atalig said to perform the appraisal, which he told the Journal would be supplemented with data that the NMI has. The valuation will include the whole of the NMI, and will include economic valuations, such as the much sought after pozzolan in the North island of Pagan.

As to whether the valuation will include property leased to the U.S. military, Atalig told the Journal, “There are different scenarios.”

He anticipated the valuation will be a two-year endeavor.

Atalig said the NMI has also received a $2.1 million grant to upgrade and implement automation at the Division of Revenue & Taxation. Atalig told the Journal that while the NMI received funding to upgrade NMI government departments and its IT system, “It doesn’t include the Rev&Tax portion.” Atalig said among other aims he wants to automate the tax refund process. “Manual entry causes problems,” he said. “We want to reduce those human errors.”

As to a timeline, Atalig said, “I have a personal goal of 18 months to get this out.” Though the NMI has two years to expedite the funding, he said. “The main challenge will be our data conversion.”

Eugene A. Tebeteb, director of employment services at the NMI Department of Labor shared latest federal unemployment assistance figures.

As of June 16, DOL has received 39,000 claims, 18,002 of which are from other jurisdictions. DOL has disqualified 26,241 claims, and has 2,509 claims pending. The NMI has dispersed $200 million in assistance, Tebeteb said. To put the numbers in perspective he said, the NMI received 1,400 claims post Typhoon Yutu. “This has been a massive undertaking,” he said.

In addition, Tebeteb said, 6,000 individuals had made claims for lost wages equaling $4.9 million. Sept. 6 is the last day for ARP Act claims in the NMI. Tebeteb said a job search requirement will be introduced by DOL in early August. He said that “27 states have already ended their PUA program.”

In other NMI news, the Biden Administration has granted the Northern Mariana Islands a U.S. Department of Homeland Security visa waiver for Hong Kong, according to a July 9 release from the Office of the Governor.

In an April 8 letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres said, “Re-inclusion of Hong Kong allows us to better plan for the possibilities of resuming our tourism industry and is significant to the long-term well-being of the citizens residing in this region of the world. Our efforts to support a viable and prosperous American community here, and to build the foundations of economic diversification, rely on our ability to resume our tourism market.”

According to Journal files, Hong Kong Express and Hong Kong Airlines flew on the Saipan route prior to the pandemic. Both are low cost carriers.


GVB discusses early success of Air V&V, tourism projections

Members of the board discussed the recent launch of the Air V&V program that encourages American expatriates and non-U.S. citizens to come to Guam for “vaccination and vacation,” at the Guam Visitors Bureau’s July 8, virtual board meeting.

The first of several EVA Air charters arrived on island on July 6, carrying 161 passengers (including crew) from Taiwan to be vaccinated as part of the program. Travelers stayed in various hotels including Tsubaki Tower, Dusit Thani Guam Resort, Hotel Nikko Guam, Hyatt Regency Guam, and Pacific Islands Club Guam, and have already received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.  According to GVB, 49 travelers received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, 51 received Moderna, and 53 received Pfizer. Additional charters are scheduled for July 10, July 14, July 18, July 22, July 25, July 26, July 27, July 29, and Aug. 2, Aug 8, and Aug. 12.

The capacity of the charters ranges from 155 to 177 passengers. 2000 total travelers from Taiwan are expected in July and August.

“Everyone wants to take advantage of the opportunity,” said Carl T. C. Gutierrez, president and CEO of GVB.

Visitors on the first EVA Air charter were welcomed at the airport with bottled water, hand sanitizer, and CHamoru music.

“The report we got, was everyone was so excited when they walked off that plane,” Gutierrez said. “They walked off that plane and they saw the clapping and the cheering for them walking off and they listened to [some] Hafa Adai upbeat songs. They said they were very, very happy.”

GVB plans to continue promoting the Air V&V program through destination preparation and an aggressive marketing campaign. The board is requesting a budget of $27.6 million to make that possible. The current budget is $6.3 million, and last year ‘s budget was $13.3 million.

GVB also discussed the Philippines and the increasing interest in Guam’s Air V&V program. The government of the Philippines recently established a list of “green” countries, allowing fully vaccinated passengers to have a shorter quarantine. The U.S. and Guam are currently not included on the list.

“There’s no reason why Guam should not be included,” said Gerald S.A. Perez, vice-president of GVB.

GVB is interested in marketing Guam as a safe destination to attract more visitors.

So far, 31,749 visitors have arrived in Guam in 2021. The board discussed estimates for the rest of the fiscal year, and listed 70,000 – 85,000 conservatively, and 130,000 optimistically as a stretch goal, although that is contingent on source markets easing travel protocol restrictions and containing spikes of COVID-19.

“We have a few months to see how things settle with Air V&V; to see how things settle in with Korea,” Perez said. “But our sense is that Taiwan and Korea are going to be the drivers of our arrivals and Japan will be lagging probably towards next spring at the earliest, summer probably.”


Hawaii travel woes

United Airlines is asking passengers boarding in Guam for Hawaii to arrive three hours early for flights, and no less than 90 minutes prior to departure.

“At the [A.B. Won Pat International Airport, Guam] United has set up a special Hawaii Pre-clearance desk at the departure gate to assist transiting passengers before they board. United helps to ensure that all passengers have enrolled in Hawaii’s Safe Travels program, completed the COVID-19 questionnaire within 24 hours from departure, and uploaded the required test results. United issues passengers a blue United wristband if they qualify to bypass airport screening in Hawaii. Transiting passengers will need to enroll in the Hawaii Safe Travels site and answer the questionnaire to receive a wristband. Customers who have been pre-cleared and receive a wristband will be able to skip the screenings in Hawaii and begin their trip as soon as they land,” United said in a July 8 release.

As of July 8, Hawaii’s Safe Travels Program allows those with proof of vaccination to skip testing, as well as mandatory quarantine.

The modification allows travelers fully vaccinated within the U.S. (to include Guam and other territories) to travel to Hawaii without taking a COVID test. Details can be found at hawaiicovid19.com.

The move is expected to encourage yet more visitors to Hawaii, where tourist visitors are sometimes exceeding 2019 arrival numbers.