Governor hopes casino will be completed

CASINO RESORT: The Imperial Pacific International casino resort project on Saipan is shown in November 2019. Post file photo

SAIPAN – Since the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Department of Public Works issued a stop-work order in October, Imperial Pacific International has ceased working with the AM Group, the staffing agency that provided IPI with local construction workers.

IPI resident director for construction Jing Zhou told the Commonwealth Casino Commission on Tuesday that the company's construction workforce currently consists of 201 H-2B workers from Mongolia, Turkey, Italy, Thailand and Taiwan.

Commission Vice Chairman Ralph S. Demapan expressed concern about the local workers who lost their jobs with IPI, which has shut down its casino since March due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Demapan told Zhou and IPI Chief Executive Officer Donald Browne that they “need to look into other alternative means to help your former local workers.”

IPI should assist them in applying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Demapan added.

Commission Chairman Edward C. Deleon Guerrero asked Zhou how often he meets with the IPI human resource department. Zhou said there is no regular meeting with HR, but they meet if necessary.

For his part, Browne said, “We are in the predicament of having no money to pay people.”

He said IPI officials are aware that the U.S. Department of Labor “is not happy with us,” adding that he also knows there should be no excuse for the failure of IPI to pay its workers.

Deleon Guerrero told Browne that “as frustrated as we are, we have to keep our eyes on the ball, and the ball is IPI.”

“You have to perform,” Deleon Guerrero added. “Bad enough you are not paying the regulatory fee and as far as I am concerned all of those machines [in your casino] have expired and your licenses are expired. We are looking at that as a separate issue. So please, Mr. Browne, I hope you understand how frustrated we are,” the commission chairman said.