IPI makes good on employee backpay, but still owes more

The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) determined that Imperial Pacific International (IPI) needed to take an unscheduled break from work on the Imperial Palace casino in Saipan since it wasn’t able to comply with its obligations. The revelation that it had continued to avoid paying its employees for months on end didn’t sit well with regulators or government officials, and IPI was ordered to come up with all the backpay it owed to its employees or face more serious problems. The casino operator has been able to find some money, but it may not be enough to keep it out of trouble.

Employee's backpay

IPI has faced numerous accusations on a variety of topics, including questionable construction habits, inability to pay government fees and gross negligence for not paying employees while forcing them to live in substandard conditions. That last issue caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which petitioned the CNMI courts to hold IPI accountable for creating a humanitarian crisis. The court agreed, but IPI has, somehow, managed to suddenly pull money out of somewhere to pay its employees. 

The Guam Daily Post reports that employees have received back pay for “periods 21 to 26,” according to IPI attorney Michael Dotts. This covers part of the outstanding obligation, but there is reportedly more due, with IPI having to come up with a total of just over $3.36 million in wages. It isn’t clear where IPI found the money or why, if it was able to come up with cash that quickly, it didn’t manage its employees’ obligations sooner. It’s also not clear why the company felt it necessary to deprive its workers of certain basic needs, such as electricity and water. 

CNMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona had ordered IPI to halt its operations due to the ongoing employee issues and the DOL request. She asserted that the company and its chairperson, Cui Li Jie, were in contempt of court and IPI will be back in court later this week to give the judge an update. Depending on how that goes, Saipan’s Imperial Palace casino may continue to suffer from its work stoppage, making it unlikely that IPI would be able to complete phase one construction by the end of next month as previously expected.

That deadline may have to be pushed back, even if Judge Manglona determines that IPI is actively working on correcting its mistakes. She wasn’t the only one to issue a stop-work order last week, as Marianas Variety reports that the CNMI Department of Public Works (DPW) issued one, as well. This one, the third the department has issued in four months, comes as IPI has reportedly failed to comply with a requirement that a safety inspector be on-site at all times.

Imperial Palace was initially expected to see the first phase of construction completed in 2018. That same year, with the deadline looming, IPI announced that it needed more time. While delays are inevitable in construction projects, the company somehow managed to get so far behind that it needed to tack on three years to the timeframe, not just a few months as could be expected. Then, in 2019, it realized it needed yet more time, requesting an additional extension to 2022. However, no word has been given on whether that request was ever officially granted.