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CNMI Lawmakers Tell Utility To Disconnect Delinquent Government Agencies

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by July 1, 2016 Regional News

 

Various agencies owe CUC $36 million for past due bills, fees

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 30, 2016) – Senator Justo S. Quitugua and Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson on Wednesday told the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. board and the management to disconnect government agencies that won’t pay their bills We’re sorry. You don't have permission to access this page. Please sign up to have full access to this page.

“Eventually I would like to get to the point that once we resolve the outstanding balance, [if] you, [the government agency] don’t pay your bill you get disconnected just like any other citizen,” Larson said in a meeting with senators.

Quituga said “I agree with the secretary. If they don’t pay, they should be cut off just like me, when my payment was one day late, they sent me a disconnection notice. I am only using $200 to $300 a month and they disconnected me. If the government owes $36 million, disconnect the government. Even the Legislature, if they don’t pay the bills, cut them. ”

The meeting was called by Senate Committee on Public Utilities, Transportation and Communication Chairman Sixto K. Igisomar to discuss CUC’s financial condition among other things.

Acting CUC chief financial officer Joan Paraiso said the government owes $36 million including penalties.

The central government alone, Paraiso said, owes CUC $5.8 million including penalties. But she said CUC has received a $3.3 million payment or over 50 percent of what is owed.

Larson disagrees that the central government owes CUC $5.8 million.

“There is a little bit of discrepancy between CUC and the government’s books,” she said.

When the central government pays its bills, it pays the current bill, she said.

But when CUC receives the payment, the agency applies it to the old bills plus penalties and interest “which is why there’s a balance that just won’t go away,” Larson said.

She and acting CUC Executive Director Gary Camacho have been meeting to discuss the outstanding balance disputed by the central government, Larson said.

She said under CUC’s former executive director, “there were accounts that were kept on our bill despite the administration’s protest.”

The then-executive director, she added, “refused to remove any of those accounts until the government could prove it had paid those balances.”

Larson said they believe that “once we proved we no longer have that account and we are no longer responsible for it then the bill should no longer apply to us.”

She said there are portions in the government’s bills “that should not be there.”

She noted that even the municipal governments of the first and second senatorial districts have some major issues with the way they are being billed by CUC.

“I asked them to enter a formal protest so that we can take a look at the accounts in question.”

Last month, Larson said, the central government paid close to a million dollars for its current and older bills in an attempt to resolve the billing dispute with CUC.

“In our last discussion we came to an informal agreement that the central government was going to try to pay approximately $600,000 every month and that will be our current bill plus any outstanding balances. We also agreed that we are also going to go account by account. So instead of paying this lump sum for a balance that never goes away, we will go agency by agency.”

Larson reiterated that the central government is current in its utility payments.

“So every bill submitted to our office has been paid. We cut checks to CUC sometimes weekly if not biweekly.”

To encourage agencies to pay their CUC bills on time, “we put restrictions on other things like travel,” Larson said.

Before an agency’s officials and employees can travel off-island, she added, the agency must be current with its operational bills, including CUC and phone bills.

“It is something that the administration takes seriously. We are not ignoring the cries of the public or CUC. We are doing everything we can to keep the payments current.”

Quitugua said: “We should be fair. We should not penalize one because of the other.”

He said since the Public School System is now current in its payments and the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. has a settlement agreement with CUC, “then they’re fine.”

“But the others — cut them off if they don’t pay. Even the Legislature. If they don’t pay the bills, cut them off,” he told CUC officials.

He also urged CUC to be quick in resolving billing disputes.

“I don’t think CUC is good at resolving these disputes because sometimes it takes months.”

He said CUC should resolve these disputes quickly so it can get the money its needs.

“I known one residential customer who disputed the bill for almost a year and the money was not being paid but CUC was not taking immediate action. Disputed bills should be resolved quickly.”

Quitugua added, “We know that you are autonomous so you should run it like a business. If you run your agency like a government then something is not right with CUC.marianas Variety {/restrict]

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