05 December 2010

International Governance Expert Discusses Changes in Northern Marianas Covenant

United Nations expert Dr. Carlyle Corbin, center, speaks to former CNMI House speaker Pedro Deleon Guerrero, right, while former Guam senator Dr. Hope Cristobal, left, looks on shortly before Corbin made a presentation before 12 lawmakers in the House chamber on Capital Hill yesterday afternoon. (Haidee V. Eugenio) A United Nations adviser and expert on political self-determination said yesterday it is always good for the CNMI, or any other insular area, to assess its political status periodically to take into consideration recent developments, including the federal takeover of local immigration.

However, despite the federal takeover of CNMI border control in 2009, Dr. Carlyle Corbin said the CNMI remains the most autonomous, self-governing of five U.S. territories.

“Just comparing the political relationship-and this is of course prior to the changes-that the model, as it was initiated, signed and adopted, was very autonomous and it provided for internal self-government, far greater than the rest of the other U.S. territories,” he told Saipan Tribune in a brief interview after his presentation before 12 local lawmakers on small island governance.

Among other things, the CNMI indigenous population still has full control of its lands as exemplified by the land alienation provision of its constitution.

“The CNMI is probably the most autonomous model of all of us,” he said, compared to American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam.

American Samoa, he said, seems to be at the opposite end of the spectrum because the U.S. Department of the Interior has veto power over the territory, a statement echoed by Senate floor leader Pete P. Reyes (R-Saipan).

House minority leader Diego Benavente (R-Saipan) said the CNMI, in his opinion, may not be the most autonomous territory after the federal takeover of local immigration.

Corbin, an international adviser on global governance and former minister of state for external affairs of the U.S. Virgin Islands, said in his “observation,” it is about time the CNMI assess its political status.

“I guess it is time to look at it. It is not a recommendation but an observation. It's always good to assess periodically and I think in some cases even constitutions have a requirement to assess every five years or every 10 years. Assessment is always good,” he said in an interview.

Corbin has served as a United Nations expert on self-determination for over a decade, and as an independent expert for the UN Development Programme on U.S. missions to Bermuda and to the Turks and Caicos.

Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan), who has been pushing for a re-examination of the U.S.-CNMI relations, particularly whether a “commonwealth” status is still desired by people under the terms of the original Covenant agreement, echoed Corbin's observations about the assessment of the islands' political status.

“I am not advocating for independence but I want the U.S. and the CNMI to come to the negotiating table and for the U.S. to fulfill its promise. To quote former justice Jesse Borja, the U.S. is supposed to provide the CNMI people with a standard of living comparable to that in the mainland,” said Torres, whose attempts since 1997 to create a Second Marianas Political Status Commission had always been rejected.

Sen. Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota) also said Corbin is right about the need to assess the islands' political status from time to time, “and to involve the younger generation in the discussion of the CNMI's future.”

Prior to meeting with lawmakers, Corbin also made a courtesy call on Gov. Benigno R. Fitial on Capital Hill yesterday.

Former Guam senator Dr. Hope Cristobal facilitated Corbin's visit to the CNMI after visiting Guam. Also accompanying Corbin and Cristobal yesterday to Saipan was attorney Julian Aguon.

Corbin is the author of two UN studies on the participation of non-independent countries in the UN system.

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