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  • Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Samuel F. McPhetres (bio)

Throughout 2012, signs became quite clear that something was very wrong in the Northern Marianas. Investors were coming in quickly and leaving just as fast. Crime was up and tourism was way down. During the course of the year, more and more people were becoming fed up with the way things were going. The governor was issuing [End Page 184] special edicts to take over almost every function of the government, from the utilities to the hospital. Involuntary workforce reductions were becoming quite common. No one knew in advance the depth and breadth of the changes at work in the Marianas.

One of the early signs of the coming storm was the Republican victory in the US House of Representatives in 2010. The substantial Republican victory over President Barack Obama’s previous majority meant that Governor Benigno R Fitial, who enjoyed being a member of the National Republican Committee, abandoned his own Covenant Party. The Covenant Party, which he had formed when he lost the Republican nomination for governor years before, became a launching point for his new campaign to form a new CNMI Republican Party and thus cash in on the victories in Washington dc. However, he did not count on losing the balance of his Covenant Party stalwarts who refused to follow him to the Republican Party. Essentially, he found himself excluded from most of the decision making, except for his own. In retaliation, he began to dismiss members of the Covenant Party who did not join his move to the national Republican Party and ended up creating a new opposition called the New Republican Party. This party was made up of previous CNMI Republicans who became part of the opposition that would later bring him down in the most unexpected manner.

Governor Fitial began taking over various public offices by issuing emergency orders and dismissing executives who were disloyal and no longer representative of his policies. This included the hospital, the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, and just about every other major government function. Summary terminations were made with the excuse that “I have a right to have people who are on my side working for me.” Attorney General Edward Buckingham loyally followed the governor and continued to implement his policies and provide legal backing for his decisions. The result was the beginning of an upsurge of opposition, which led to the revelation that all was not well in the administration.

The dissatisfaction reached a breaking point when it was revealed that the governor and the attorney general had jointly signed a $190 million power purchase agreement with a little-known company, Saipan Development llc (a private company organized in Delaware) to construct a power plant at Lower Base on Saipan. Eventually it was revealed that the government would not be paying for the purchase of the power plant itself but would have to pay for operations and fuel. These costs are calculated to be millions of dollars more than what was being expended at the time. It was revealed that the contract had been signed by the attorney general and the governor without the involvement of the Office of Procurement, the Department of Finance, or the management of the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, and that it included, among other things, a shipyard facility for which no approvals had been given by the federal government and no Environmental Protection Agency study had been made.

The combination of reduced government employment, apparently illegal activities by the administration, [End Page 185] and very heavy-handed treatment of anyone who did not agree with the governor’s policies led to the first visible sign of opposition: a local lady stood at an intersection of the road to the governor’s offices with a handwritten sign that said “Impeach Fitial.” That simple move gave impetus to a groundswell unknown in the history of the Marianas. The move to impeach the governor was launched.

The public came out in very large numbers to what became known as the “Wave In” with signs and banners urging people to support the impeachment movement. On one occasion there were opposing movements (pro-and anti-Fitial) on the same...


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