CNMI Former lawmaker Stanley McGinnis T. Torres protesting outside the legislative building on Capital Hill in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands on March 28. (Emmanuel T. Erediano/Marianas Variety).

The granting of a parcel of public land for the construction of a Palauan Bai, a traditional meeting house, in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) did not get all the desired feedbacks from Chamorros as some questioned the authority of a government body to designate the public property for the project and for refusing to grant lands for its own people.

In a letter to the editor sent to the Marianas Variety which is also published online on April 3, a certain Jack Muna questioned the Department of Public Lands (DPL) saying that “there is nothing in the CNMI Constitution or the CNMI Code that gives DPL authority to grant freely designated public lands without public purpose other than to designate public lands for homestead and lease public lands for the benefit of NMD’s (Northern Marianas Descent).”

CNMI’s DPL previously signed an agreement with the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs (DCCA) on May 29 last year to assign a 7,000-square meter public land to the latter for the construction of the Palauan community hall in Saipan’s Capitol Hill. This was then signed by CNMI’s Attorney General on the same day.

Muna even cited a statute detailing the duties of the DCCA and went on questioning how the act of granting public land for the project relates to these responsibilities.

The letter sender then alleged that the DPL secretary’s act was “an abuse of authority and fiduciary duties”.

In a report by the Marianas Variety, Muna was quoted in saying that he had nothing against the Palauan people but was merely protesting about the way the administration handled the matter “poorly.”

“In order for non-NMDs to get any public land in the CNMI, they must lease the land, but this deal is free for the taking — no respect to the people of the CNMI. It was a sweet silent deal [that] happened in our backyard [without giving] the people a chance to voice their opinions [as] the rightful owner of this property,” Muna was quoted in the report.

Former CNMI lawmaker Stanley T. Torres also protested against the project citing that the DPL itself could not issue homestead lands to the people of NMDs but is instead giving out 7,000 square-meter land for the Palauan Bai.

The lawmaker also cited that more than 4,000 NMD’s are still waiting for DPL to approve their homestead lot applications while some had already been turned down by the department supposedly for lack of available land.

In a press statement sent by the DPL to the CNMI media on April 2, the DPL expressed that their department is “constitutionally mandated” to manage and dispose lands. It also explained that the transaction involving the piece of land for the Palauan Bai was legal.

“The assignments of public lands from one government agency to another fall within the confines of DPL’s mandates, and was approved by the attorney general,” it stated.

It also emphasized that the designation of land for the project is not a “permanent interest” and requires land use review every 10-year period to ensure compliance on the intended use of the premises.

The DPL also said that the transaction was supported by a house resolution that was also backed by representatives from the 20th Northern Marianas Commonwealth Legislature in an open public session.

Palau thanks CNMI

Meanwhile, Palau’s leadership presented a presidential proclamation to CNMI Governor Ralph DLG Torres on April 5 during his visit here to express gratitude for the designation of land for the construction of the Bai.

According to the presidential proclamation, the Bai project in CNMI will soon house the Palau Consulate Office and will serve as typhoon shelter, and meeting center for Palauans residing in CNMI.

“The people and the government of Palau welcome this opportunity to realize the use of the property and thus support the Palauan community in CNMI through the construction of the community hall or Bai, whether through congressional appropriation or fundraising efforts,” the proclamation read.

It added that the establishment of the project “will continue to foster the already strong friendship and cooperation between the people of Palau and CNMI.”

The DPL said in the same press statement that the Palauan Bai project has been ongoing since 2006 where open dialogues between government agencies, CNMI legislature, and the community at large had been conducted. (Rhealyn C. Pojas)