17 Jul 2013

Over 300 still await land payments in CNMI

5:09 pm on 17 July 2013

More than 300 landowners in the Northern Marianas are still waiting on the government to pay them land compensation claims worth about US$100 million, some as far back as the 1990s.

The claimants are owners of private property whose lands were acquired by the government, mostly for its road projects.

Our correspondent told Mark Rabago told MTT the problem is the government has no money to pay the land claimants.

MARK RABAGO: Saipan alone has 240 claimants - they are owed $80 million. In Rota there are more than 100 that are owed $20 million. So as long as the CNMI government doesn't have money, probably it could take some bonds to pay off this $100 million in land claim payments. But I don't see these poor unfortunate families, the 300 families who have had their land taken from them by the government, getting paid soon.

MOERA TUILAEPA-TAYLOR: The compensation, is it for the use of their land? Is that what the issue is?

MR: Well, the issue is that these are lands. The CNMI government needed to use roads, and the places where the roads should be are owned by private citizens, private families, private people. And they bought this, quote unquote, 'bought' this land. They could either be paid by money or exchanged [with] land. Most of them opted to get cash. And 20 years have passed and most of them haven't had any money.

MTT: When they made these deals, was the government ever looking at buying the property outright, or was it just done on a rental basis?

MR: It's not a rental basis. it's bought outright, but only parcels of land, not the whole land. Sometimes these lands are even bought at not the correct rate, probably cheaper. 20 years since then, some of them haven't got paid yet. The biggest unpaid claim is 12 million and it's growing. Some of these are actually not that big to start with, but since it has an interest rate, it has ballooned to, as I said, $100 million. One claimant who went really public closed the roads there because they haven't been paid. The matriarch is getting old and she hasn't seen a cent so they paid, I think, $2,000 for that claimant.

MTT: What action can these landowners take from here?

MR: They can wait or they can do what the family that I was pertaining to did and go public.