Saturday, July 12, 2008


Dear people of the Commonwealth,
On Thursday
, July 10, 2008,
I received notice from the Attorney General's Office that the petition to apply the Open Government Act to the Legislature requires 512 additional valid signatures by July 21 in order for the initiative to be placed on the ballot for the November 2008 election.
What is the Open Government Act, and why is it important? The Open Government Act (Public Law 8-41) is the law that recognizes the right of the people to know what their public officials are doing on their behalf. This means that public notice with agendas must be issued for official meetings of the government at which action is taken. It also means that all public records are open to inspection by any concerned citizen who wishes to inspect such records or obtain copies.
The Open Government Act applies to all agencies, departments, boards, and instrumentalities of the government. The Act used to apply to the Legislature too, but in the early 1990s the Legislature decided to exempt themselves from the law. The Legislature continues to be exempt from the Open Government Act to this day, and as a result meetings and sessions can be called or cancelled at a moment's notice, agendas are routinely changed if they are ever even provided, bills are regularly introduced and passed on the same day without the slightest opportunity for public review, and legislators can ignore or deny citizens' requests for information without justification. Previous attempts to reapply the Open Government Act to the Legislature through the legislative process have ended in failure: legislation has been attacked, delayed, ignored, watered down, or otherwise subverted.
While the application of the Open Government Act to the Legislature may not seem like such a pressing issue to some at this time, especially in light of the severe fiscal, economic, infrastructural, and social crises we face, I strongly believe that it is precisely because of our deepening hardships that measures to stabilize the legislative process and make it more open to the public have become more crucial than ever. People need and deserve to know what their legislators are doing to tackle the many difficult issues of the day, and they have a right to be more involved in the political process.
I am convinced that it is up to the people of this Commonwealth to rise up and demand the transparency and accountability they deserve from their elected officials, and to take direct action to apply the Open Government Act to the Legislature through the popular initiative process.
512 signatures by July 21 -- can we do it? Yes, we can. And if an open and accountable Legislature is important enough to the people to get on the ballot by November 2008, we will.
To help gather signatures for the Open Government Act initiative, please contact me at 285-3935 or by email at .
Tina Sablan

I received this in an E-Mail from Tina Sablan. If you haven't signed this Open Government Act yet please do so now. It is a badly needed instrument to keep the government open and honest, if that's possible. To sign up contact Tina ..Above..

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Jack Abramoff CNMI scandal

Jack Abramoff and his law firm were paid at least $6.7 million by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) from 1995 to 2001. After Abramoff paid for Tom DeLay and his staffers to go on trips to the CNMI, they crafted policy that extended exemptions from federal immigration, labor, and minimum wage laws to the islands' industries while allowing them to continue manufacturing goods with the "Made in the USA" label. Abramoff also negotiated for a $1.2 million no-bid contract from the Marianas for 'promoting ethics in government' to be awarded to David Lapin, brother of Daniel Lapin. Abramoff also secretly funded a trip for James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS).

Documentation also indicates that Abramoff's lobbying team helped prepare Rep. Ralph Hall's (R-TX) statements on the house floor in which he attacked the credibility of escaped teenaged sex worker "Katrina," in an attempt to discredit her testimony regarding the state of the sex slave industry on the island.[17] Ms. magazine also explored Abramoff's dealings in the CNMI and the plight of garment workers like Katrina in their spring 2006 article "Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists."

Later lobbying efforts involved mailings from a Ralph Reed marketing company to Christian conservative voters and bribery of Roger Stillwell, a Department of the Interior official who in 2006 pleaded guilty to accepting gifts from Abramoff.

"The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) immigration system is antithetical to the principals that are at the core of the US immigration policy. Over time, the CNMI has developed an immigration system dominated by the entry of foreign temporary contract workers. These now outnumber US citizens but have few rights within the CNMI and are subject to serious labor and human rights abuses. In contrast to US immigration policy, which admits immigrants for permanent residence and eventual citizenship, the CNMI admits aliens largely as temporary contract workers who are ineligible to gain either US citizenship or civil and social rights within the commonwealth. Only a few countries and no democratic society have immigration policies similar to the CNMI. The closest equivalent is Kuwait. The end result of the CNMI policy is to have a minority population governing and severely limiting the rights of the majority population who are alien in every sense of the word."

On March 31, 1998,[18] US Senator Daniel Akaka said:

The Commonwealth shares our American flag, but it does not share the American system of immigration. There is something fundamentally wrong with a CNMI immigration system that issues permits to recruiters, who in turn promise well-paying American jobs to foreigners in exchange for a $6,000 recruitment fee. When the workers arrive in Saipan, they find their recruiter has vanished and there are no jobs in sight. Hundreds of these destitute workers roam the streets of Saipan with little or no chance of employment and no hope of returning to their homeland. The State Department has confirmed that the government of China is an active participant in the CNMI immigration system. There is something fundamentally wrong with an immigration system that allows the government of China to prohibit Chinese workers from exercising political or religious freedom while employed in United States. Something is fundamentally wrong with a CNMI immigration system that issues entry permits for 12- and 13-year-old girls from the Philippines and other Asian nations, and allows their employers to use them for live sex shows and prostitution. Finally, something is fundamentally wrong when a Chinese construction worker asks if he can sell one of his kidneys for enough money to return to China and escape the deplorable working conditions in the Commonwealth and the immigration system that brought him there. There are voices in the CNMI telling us that the cases of worker abuse we keep hearing about are isolated examples, that the system is improving, and that worker abuse is a thing of the past. These are the same voices that reap the economic benefits of a system of indentured labor that enslaves thousands of foreign workers -- a system described in a bi-partisan study as "an unsustainable economic, social and political system that is antithetical to most American values." There is overwhelming evidence that abuse in the CNMI occurs on a grand scale and the problems are far from isolated.

In 1991,[19] Levi Strauss was embarrassed by a scandal involving six subsidiary factories run on Saipan by the Tan Holdings Corporation. It was revealed that Chinese laborers in those factories suffered under what the U.S. Department of Labor called "slavelike" conditions. Cited for sub-minimal wages, seven-day work week schedules with twelve-hour shifts, poor living conditions and other indignities (including the alleged removal of passports and the virtual imprisonment of workers), Tan would eventually pay what was then the largest fines in U.S. labor history, distributing more than $9 million in restitution to some 1200 employees.[1][2][3] At the time, Tan factories produced 3% of Levi's jeans with the "Made in the U.S.A." label. Levi Strauss claimed that it had no knowledge of the offenses, severed ties to the Tan family, and instituted labor reforms and inspection practices in its offshore facilities.

In 1999, Sweatshop Watch, Global Exchange, Asian Law Caucus, Unite, and the garment workers themselves filed three separate lawsuits in class-action suits on behalf of roughly 30,000 garment workers in Saipan. The defendants included 27 U.S. retailers and 23 Saipan garment factories. By 2004, they had won a 20 million dollar settlement against all but one of the defendants.[20]

Levi Strauss was the only successful defendant, winning the case against them in 2004.[21]

In 2005–2006, the issue of immigration and labor practices on Saipan was brought up during the American political scandals of Congressman Tom DeLay and lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who visited the island on numerous occasions. Ms. magazine has followed the issue and published a major expose in their Spring 2006 article "Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortion and Right-Wing Moralists".

On February 8, 2007, the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources received testimony about federalizing CNMI labor and immigration.

Representative Donna Christensen (D-V.I.) submitted HR-3079 to federalize the labor and immigration of the CNMI. With local control in jeopardy, big business leaders in Saipan prepared to defend their unique position. Several Saipan residents began to take exception to the status quo of servitude and governmental corruption. Tina Sablan wrote a manifesto for change in the commonwealth and ultimately ran for the NMI House of Representatives successfully, perhaps signaling a new era of change. The case was further highlighted when a local high school teacher, Ron Hodges, challenged the Saipan Chamber of Commerce in an explosively frank series of articles entitled Chamberonomics. The NMI Congress tried to legislate Hodges out of the territory by naming him persona non grata, which increased national and international media attention. Hodges called for a Prayer Vigil and March to coincide with Rep. Christiansen’s Congressional hearing with impressive attendance.

On July 19, 2007,[22] Christensen conducted testimony on Saipan regarding S. 1634 (The Northern Mariana Islands Covenant Implementation Act).[23] Deputy Assistant Secretary of Insular Affairs David B. Cohen testified the following.[23] He said:

Congress has the authority to make immigration and naturalization laws applicable to the CNMI. Through the bill that we are discussing today, Congress is proposing to take this legislative step to bring the immigration system of the CNMI under Federal administration. [...] [S]erious problems continue to plague the CNMI’s administration of its immigration system, and we remain concerned that the CNMI’s rapidly deteriorating fiscal situation may make it even more difficult for the CNMI government to devote the resources necessary to effectively administer its immigration system and to properly investigate and prosecute labor abuse. [...] While we congratulate the CNMI for its recent successful prosecution of a case in which foreign women were pressured into prostitution, human trafficking remains far more prevalent in the CNMI than it is in the rest of the U.S. During the twelve-month period ending on April 30, 2007, 36 female victims of human trafficking were admitted to or otherwise served by Guma’ Esperansa, a women’s shelter operated by a Catholic nonprofit organization. All of these victims were in the sex trade. Secretary Kempthorne personally visited the shelter and met with a number of women from the Philippines who were underage when they were trafficked into the CNMI for the sex industry. [...I]t is clear that local control over CNMI immigration has resulted in a human trafficking problem that is proportionally much greater than the problem in the rest of the U.S. A number of foreign nationals have come to the Federal Ombudsman’s office complaining that they were promised a job in the CNMI after paying a recruiter thousands of dollars to come there, only to find, upon arrival in the CNMI, that there was no job. Secretary Kempthorne met personally with a young lady from China who was the victim of such a scam and who was pressured to become a prostitute; she was able to report her situation and obtain help in the Federal Ombudsman’s office. We believe that steps need to be taken to protect women from such terrible predicaments. We are also concerned about recent attempts to smuggle foreign nationals, in particular Chinese nationals, from the CNMI into Guam by boat. A woman was recently sentenced to five years in prison for attempting to smuggle over 30 Chinese nationals from the CNMI into Guam.

Contract laborers arriving from China are usually required to pay their (Chinese National) recruitment agents fees equal to a year's total salary[24] (roughly $3,500) and occasionally as high as two years' salary,[25] though the contracts are only one-year contracts, renewable at the employer's discretion.

60% of the population of the CNMI is contract workers. These workers cannot vote. They are not represented, and can be deported if they lose their jobs. Meanwhile, the minimum wage remains well below that on the U.S. mainland, and abuses of vulnerable workers are commonplace.[26]

December 7, 2007, local Congressperson elect, Tina Sablan, rallied a historic Unity March across Saipan with extraordinary attendance. The speakers were civil and labor rights activists, doctors, clergy, and concerned residents speaking out for reform including Ed Propste, Ron Hodges, and Wendy Doromal of Orlando, Florida.

For more on the history of the labor and human rights history of Saipan, see the web site of long time NMI rights activist Wendy Doromal.