Nation Lacks Economic Development Plan

NAVAJO TIMES - LETTER TO THE EDITOR: 

"Nation lacks economic development plan"

A candidate campaigning on economic development on the Navajo Nation is a common tactic used to lure voters and we have seen this played out since candidates have challenged each other. But it’s another thing when the current president makes claims of having to turn properties for profit and has instilled heavily schooled young Navajos to his cabinet, to convey to the general public conflicting approaches of his economic plan.

Much less no hint of an economic director’s report or strategic plan for economic development has been made for her staff or the Navajo people to see. She lacks not only a viable written document citing major development plans that her department is pursuing, but a well written strategic plan that (1) aligns vision, mission and values; (2) defines strategic direction; (3) aligns functions to Navajo Nation goals; (4) sets goals, priorities and performance measures; and (5) tracks progress on key initiatives that would help all parts of the Navajo Nation with economic development.

Her only comment, “I did not come to clean up a mess, and that’s what it was.”

What does she think she was hired to do?

The Dineh Chamber of Commerce is correct in their assessment of the “new” Economic Development director, which is to remove her. Jefferson Begay, president of the Chamber went on to say, “The current director (Deschinny) is not helping. In fact, she is basically fighting. She isn’t in the same frame of mind to be supportive,” and if you think the administration can be ever more elusive of its campaign claims for more jobs, more development, one only has to read the July 20, 2015 “One Nation One Voice: Common priorities of the Navajo Nation government signed by the three branch chiefs,” where again campaign political catchwords of job creation and business opportunity, partnership, bank, energy, economic zoning, revenue generating and investment are provided without further explanation, even after hiring an Advisory Committee (from prestigious universities), executive staff assistant (with economic development experience), and now wants to form an Economic Development Task Force.

The president has stated recently in a Navajo Times article that his administration has developed a plan which consists of 1) Leveraging the Permanent Trust Fund and Sihasin Funds; 2) Creating a holding corporation with a mandated dividend to the Navajo Nation; 3) Increased support for Navajo small businesses and 4) Developing a resource road map to invest in new energy opportunities that align with our vision of economic sovereignty.

The executive branch is not even speaking to the legislative branch at the moment. Does the Council know of this plan? The Council has called upon President Begaye through letters, through verbal requests, and by other means to sit down and resolve issues such as the line-item veto authority, and more important issues such as the potential loss of coal revenue, the potential loss of power plant jobs, the need for housing in the Former Bennett Freeze Area, settlement of water rights, and secure funding for public assistance.

Instead, President Begaye continues to voice his issues through newspapers, radio messages and social media. His campaign promise to work with the Council and their committees to move issues forward doesn’t seem to be working. This is just an example of progress being halted due to the unwillingness of President Begaye to communicate regularly and effectively with the Navajo Nation Tribal Council, after an open invitation was provided by the Navajo tribal Speaker and the tribal council to sit down and have an open and honest discussion.

As a business owner, I met with President Begaye, Vice President Nez, Peterson Zah and Robert Joe prior to them taking office and one more time after they took office, and had a recent meeting face to face with the “new” administrative assistant for Economic Development, Juan Massey, to offer my 47 years of business experience. I attempted for several years to work with my tribe, the Diné, but to no avail, so we chose to work with another tribal government, the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, whom we use for sovereign immunity, nation-to-nation negotiations and we pay the tribe on a monthly basis a substantial fee for this service.

We wanted to do this with the Navajo Nation so we then established a relationship with an international country and ended up doing all their economic development for their country. In the last three months, we’ve established a credit line with the World Bank and several U.S. companies amounting to $3 billion. We are currently building 15 solar farms, a wind farm, a hydropower plant, a gas-fired power plant, four-star casinos, an American Indian bank, total broadband installation for the country, a new airport to promote tourism, expansion of their power plant and export of oil and gas. We are currently looking into mining their many resources (gold, copper, titanium, diamonds, rare earth and more). My company is 100 percent Navajo owned, super 8(a) corporation and Buy Indian Certified, which allows us not to be bonded.

Mr. Peaches is correct when he states that there is not a plan at the local level, which should be shared with the surrounding states and at the national level. It is disheartening to know that there is not a plan in place to address this issue. Our leadership should be more proactive by developing a strategic and tactical plan, master plan, market intelligence services to address financial needs, competitive strategies and trends around the world (i.e., manufacturing of alternative energy solutions on Navajo lands and not concentrate on coal; fossil fuel is on its way out).

Case in point: the Navajo Generating Station in Page. I know two national companies willing to take on this task and start producing clean energy. What is our tribe doing to keep producing power from the Navajo Generating Station and keep the jobs? The Navajo Nation does not have to use their own funds. What are the long- and short-term goals of the Navajo Nation? Does the Navajo Nation understand the intricacies of their economic development ambitions of the goals that they establish and do they have the insight to formulate a specific action plan to meet those financial and strategic goals?

It is quite apparent that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, so let’s just do another plan (to be shelved, after a lot of money is spent) and by that time the summer would be over and the drought conditions could be addressed in an emergency session with all department directors next year at the “new” Twin Arrows Casino, during the months of July and August. As I keep saying, if you don’t have a plan, then any plan will work.

I propose a challenge to the tribal council leaders to assist and call upon chapter leadership to mobilize a movement through their resolution system calling for an end to idle, ineffective Division of Economic Development to be replaced by an effective and systematized one, and possibly outsource a professional private business developer. A reliable, sound, and operable economic development deployment plan will not only create jobs, stop the “brain drain” occurring in which intelligent and educated Navajo youth are leaving the reservation for good jobs in cities across the United States, but most importantly to alleviate poverty. A serious approach in analyzing this situation would require a group of specialists to study why the nation’s social and economic development is not progressing at all.

Where’s the transparency? We, the people, have not seen anything of any significance other than empty promises and a loss of income from taxes that are not being collected such as the Pumpkin Patch agreement and the Antelope Point “The Point” agreement where millions are owed the Navajo Nation, but no collections are made. The Point owes the Navajo Nation over $14 million in back taxes and the Navajo Nation asked LeChee Chapter to pass a resolution to write off the taxes. The companies have breached their lease agreement and could be asked to leave, but still they remain with their non-Navajo employees. Come on guys, open your eyes!

Meanwhile, the administration, if you count its campaign promises prior to the primary election of August 2014, has not produced any specific plans several years later of how it will change the economic landscape of the Navajo Nation. We can help.

Without any plans Mr. President, your four pillars do not seem to be addressed, which should make it difficult for you to awake to the “New Dawn” you envisioned of your leadership, but you could watch the “Sunset” as the outgoing president.

Joe Bergen - Page, Ariz.