In an effort to address what is often a cumbersome and, sometimes, lengthy permitting process for businesses and investors, Governor Ralph DLG. Torres and Lt. Governor Arnold I. Palacios have prioritized a complete review and revamp of the process with the goal of creating a more understandable and easier way to do business in the CNMI.
“We must ensure that we continue to meet environmental and historic preservation needs, but the process itself is complicated and lengthy for many investors and small businesses. We have lost potential investors because of the length of time the process has taken in some cases. We have been looking at ways to streamline the process during this time of economic recovery,” said Governor Torres.
The Governor’s Council on Economic Advisers has also identified the difficulties with the permitting process as a critical issue in the ability of the Commonwealth to see new investment.
Recently, the administration created a CNMI Permitting Agency Working Group to identify the internal and external issues involved with the permitting process.
According to Senior Policy Advisor Robert Hunter, he noted that some of the issues that sometimes delay the process can be dealt with through a change in internal policy.
“Some of the issues with the process are tied to law, and we need to review these and make recommendations to our Legislature. We also need to work with federal partners involved in the process to ensure timely action on their end, and we will be communicating with them to discuss possible reasonable windows of time for action,” Hunter said.
Lt. Governor Palacios notes the administration wants to modernize the permitting process.
“We want to set up a process that can be accessed remotely, that removes redundancies like having to submit the same documents to several agencies, that provides clarity to the applicant, and that is transparent. Applicants and permitting agencies should be able to know where exactly a permit application is in the process, what documents or actions are required of the applicant or permitting agency at any given point during the process, and that the process be presented in a way that is easily understandable and navigable,” said Lt. Governor Palacios.
The administration has been working with individuals in the tech community to discuss the development of an online portal. An applicant can get on, initiate their application online, submit all of the documents necessary online, track their application as it makes its way through each of the permitting agency’s review process, provide real-time notifications of additional document needs, issues, or required actions, and that is easily utilized and understandable.
“Beyond just a ‘permitting portal,’ we are looking at tying into the portal a number of peripheral applications necessary to doing business in the CNMI, including business licensing application, zoning applications, Department of Public Works permit applications, occupancy permit applications, Commerce-based employee-insurance and other applications, and also the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy System (NMPASI),” said Hunter.
“We have often discussed a ‘one-stop shop’ for business licensing and permitting. The reality is, a physical space that is adequately staffed is a difficult proposition and may not be ideal. We can accommodate this ‘one-stop shop’ through an online platform, a ‘business and permitting portal,’ that can capture nearly the entirety of business licensing and permitting needs. We are also looking at linking this portal with existing processes such as the Commonwealth Development Authority and the Small Business Development Center,” Hunter added.
Governor Torres said the administration is looking at all of the various agencies that carry out GIS mapping to develop a consolidated map that identifies public lands, environmentally sensitive areas, historically sensitive areas, wetlands, and zoning information. He noted this consolidated map will also be tied into the portal, so that investors, developers, and the government, can stave off issues related to designation of certain properties, early in the process.
“The ultimate goal, as it always has been, is to make it easy to do business in the Marianas. Our economy is run by our small businesses and investors who help us diversify our economic industries beyond tourism. We can then become much more resilient as an island community moving forward and better provide services for our people,” Governor Torres added.
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