Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands : Efficiencies as a Cure for Corruption

  • 5
  • November 15, 2013
  • David Lapin

Case Study Details

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) enjoys a special relationship with the United States. While the people of the CNMI are American citizens, a covenant between the two vests control of minimum wage, labor, and immigration in the Administration of the CNMI.

Governor Froilan Tenorio is a man of action. He knew that the privileges in the areas of labor and immigration and minimum wage granted to the CNMI by the Covenant were key to the region's competitive advantage and the growth of its economy. Retaining those privileges required eliminating any practices that could undermine federal confidence in the CNMI's capacity to manage it's own labor and immigration. Thus, when certain practices in the Department of Labor and Immigration (DLI) threatened to undermine this confidence, he recognized the need for drastic action.

He wanted a Department of Labor and Immigration that functioned according to American principles of efficiency and ethics but which took account of the unique cultural, economic, and ethical dynamics of the indigenous population. "I chose Lapin International [formerly SBE] to help me formulate a philosophy of government in CNMI. I believed that their experience during the cultural transition in South Africa positioned them to understand the specific conflicts which characterize our relationship with the Federal government. Lapin International highlighted the need to change the civil service ethos from one of power exertion to one of public service. Additionally, they focused us on the need to shift community perceptions away from entitlement toward contribution. It is this legacy that I wanted to leave to the Commonwealth."

Lapin International included many of the employees in the Department of Labor and Immigration and other members of the government in a series of workshops. These workshops radically altered the way employees perceived themselves and their roles in society. It set in motion a process of self-analysis and unprecedented self-improvement. Participants formulated a business philosophy that would guide all decisions and actions in the department. Civil servants, who used to be demotivated about their work, came with a desire to contribute, to help others, and to be a part of something much bigger than their own small departments.

"The energy and enthusiasm became tangible and infectious. Soon everyone on the island wanted to be part of the workshop, and we exposed as many people as we could to the new thinking."

The new philosophy in the DLI demanded a change in the process, structure, management systems, and, importantly, in the legislation. Several task forces, comprising departmental staff and Lapin International consultants, were set up to recommend changes. The recommendations synthesized the professional requirements of an efficient department with the cultural expectations of the island population. Salaries were modified to reflect contribution, not tenure. For the first time, this introduced performance measurement into the department. The brightest stars found an environment entirely hospitable to their achievements while the non-contributors became acutely aware of the need to refashion their behaviors or leave. The improvements in efficiency eliminated the potential for corruption, and the service levels in the department were noticeably higher. Members of the public began to see improvements, and they celebrated.