Saipan Correspondent


Gov. Arnold I. Palacios and Lt. Governor David M. Apatang after their inauguration.
Photo by Mark Rabago

SUSUPE, Saipan — Gov. Arnold I. Palacios said he and Lt. Gov. David M. Apatang will be more fiscally responsible and accountable than the previous administration to rebuild the people of the NMI’s trust in their government.


Palacios and Apatang were sworn in as the NMI’s 10th governor and 13th lieutenant governor respectively at midnight — a few hours before the formal Jan. 9 inauguration ceremony at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center.


In his inaugural speech, the 67-year-old Palacios said he and Apatang thought they would be enjoying their second retirement, but events in the past year compelled them to run for the two highest offices in the NMI islands. “What we saw more than a year ago compelled us to reconsider. The commonwealth was facing a moment of crisis and in need of credible leadership.”


The crisis Palacios alluded to is the alleged unchecked spending of both local and federal funds by former governor Ralph DLG. Torres. “Unfortunately, after the squandering of tax dollars with disaster recovery effort incomplete and the continuing global health pandemic taking an unimaginable toll on our economy and our lives, the alarm went off on the need to rein in excess government spending and to use public funds wisely and not unchecked,” he said.


Palacios was lieutenant governor but broke away from the ruling Republican Party of the NMI after he wasn’t considered by Torres as running mate in his reelection bid in the 2022 general elections. Palacios also didn’t mince words when describing his predecessor’s alleged uncurbed spendings habits and misuse of public funds. “The arrogant use of power never amounts to anything. The people saw through the hype what the greed of corruption has sown … And in recent days the revelation of the much-advertised BOOST (Building Optimism, Opportunities and Stability Together) Program may have just given us a glimpse of the scale of mismanagement and irresponsible use of public funds.”


Palacios said the emerging facts of the state of the NMI’s fiscal health is dismaying and the potential consequences to the commonwealth should be addressed.


Palacios reminded the crowd at the inauguration that he and the 74-year-old Apatang are not only known for being the oldest governor and lieutenant governor in NMI history but are famous for their thriftiness as well. “To get ourselves back to fiscal stability we must do so by exercising fiscal discipline and leading by example is not a problem to David and myself. We are both known for our frugal ways. We don’t look for luxury or extravagant expenses and unnecessary use of public service and we try to live within our means,” he said.


Palacios also vowed to work closely with the legislature to stabilize the fiscal health of the government, and with the assistance of the attorney general, pursue options for the recoupment of ARPA funds “from those individuals and companies that made off like criminals.”


Apatang said he and Palacios will start their four-year term with many pressing issues — namely the islands’ deteriorating infrastructure; rising prices; depleting federal aid; mounting debts; mounting deficits; uncertainty in the jobs market; the struggling travel industry; rising demand for public services; growing unemployment; a stagnant economy; and the unfinished casino and hotel in Garapan. “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,” he said.


The former mayor of Saipan also said he and Palacios are also looking forward to enhancing the NMI’s relationship with the federal government, in particular, the U.S. Department of Defense. “With a 100-year lease in hand, we have to accept the fact that the commitment we made to the U.S. government and the commitment it made to us are honorably performed. There have been mixed feelings about the plans of the U.S. military on Tinian and in the CNMI. Governor Palacios and I will work closely with the U.S. military to find mutual terms and conditions that seriously take into account our civilian population.”


Apatang, the first veteran to hold the lieutenant governor post, also said the partnership with the DOD is crucial considering the emerging threat of North Korea in the region. “We just cannot ignore North Korea’s noncompliant attitude to respect others and behave responsibly.”


The team spoke about a slimmer government, smarter use of federal funds and committed to solutions to maintain the economy before ARPA Funding expires at the end of 2024.

 Atapang said, “We believe our best bet to keep us afloat before and after Dec. 31, 2024 is our available and abundant local resources — our businesses and our environment. Turning our commonwealth into a friendly and safe and affordable clean destination just might bring back tourists from Japan and South Korea. We just need to turn our attention to these two tourist markets and convince them to return to our beautiful Northern Marianas.”


He said time and again, Japan and South Korea have proven to the NMI that they have been its strongest source of visitor arrivals. “No need to reinvent the wheel anymore when we have seen in the past that our economy grew exponentially when we did something right.”


After the inauguration — the shortest in NMI history at a little longer than an hour — dignitaries and the assembled crowd were treated to lunch beside the multi-purpose center and Saipan World Resort, respectively.


In the evening, two inauguration balls were held — one at Pacific Islands Club Saipan for supporters and one at Kensington Resort Saipan for dignitaries. mbj