OPINION | ‘Chill of fear in the air’

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PREFACE: January 1, 2020 marked the beginning of a New Year and a new decade. I wish we could be talking something inspirationally noble for our children to learn about, look forward to and be proud of. Sadly, though in the dawn of the New Year we also have a lingering “chill of fear in the air” that an indictment of a sitting Governor will be filed by federal prosecutors within days.

A repeat of what took place just five years ago will dramatically expose a severe epidemic of corrupted leadership in the CNMI. After more than 32 years of corruptions in our government, under the control of Republicans, it gives the appearance of a citizen complicit in the commission of egregious acts and the continuation of an acute crisis of rogue leadership and unprecedented “Travesty of Public Trust.”

I continue to write on this subject, not for any reason other than its profound implications on our children that; the rule of law does not matter, malfeasance in public office does not matter, our regional and national reputation does not matter, our maturity to govern ourselves as a self-governing entity does not matter, to have an honorable standing with U.S. Congress does not matter, but most fundamentally, we are showing the whole world that we have no self-appreciation of who we are and what we are, not to mention the moral and ethical revulsion that it is causing here at home.

It is undeniably clear that Governor Torres has not learned his lesson from the dreadful experienced of a disgracefully driven-out of office Governor —former Governor Benigno Fitial. He has and continues to behave as though the law does not apply to him. A very dangerous mindset that pose a great threat to democracy and the rule of law, and we will learn soon how ignoble his actions were and the moral distaste of his decisions are.

Premeditatedly corrupted act

Here is the text of the oath of office that Chief Justice of the Supreme Court administers in swearing-in Governor Ralph Torres before assuming his official duties.

“I, Ralph DLG Torres, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the constitution and laws of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Covenant to establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in a political union with the United States of America, and that I will faithfully discharge my duties to the best of my ability. So, help me God”

Governor Torres has taken this oath of office more than 5 times throughout his political career. He has gone through the solemn exercise of placing his left hand on the Bible and raising his right hand and swears to support and defend the Constitution of the CNMI and the United States, and that he will faithfully discharge his duties to the best of his ability.

He went through this dignified affirmation pledging to do good and just, not in a private ceremony but in a public stage in front of hundreds of witnessing citizens. Thousands of dollars of public funds were spent for his swearing-in ceremonies which includes pampering honored guests during this pageantry.

Moral and ethical leader not only took the swearing-in ceremony as an honor but more virtuously as an obligation and commitment to do the will of the people. But for some reason ever since Governor Torres got elected in November of 2007 to the House of Representatives, “doing the will of the people” was through a flamboyant display of character impersonation. The “make believes character” of himself as the baston of hope and the guardian of democracy was just a caricature of how he wishes to be perceived by the public. In other words, a public persona masked in deception.

A leader who has demonstrated his inability to differentiate between the “rule of joy” and the “law of duty.” His actions testified that he is more consumed in seeking aspirational rewards for himself, rather than using his innate ability to fully achieve inspirational goals to advance the quality of lives of our citizens. After all he swears that he will faithfully discharge his duties to the best of his ability.

How do I claim this to be so and what factual premise do I base it on? Well, by looking at his personal conduct and pattern of behavior. If one carefully analyzes the way he governs and spend public funds, you come to the conclusion that Governor Torres leadership was a grandiose elusive cover-up designed for self-serving interests. Between who he appoints to head strategic government positions where the casino operators have vested interests on or his off-island travel escapades and claims for reimbursements, the “veil of secrecy” are now slowly revealing its ugly head.

In his first term in the House, and as Chairman of the Health and Education Committee, he raked in more off-island travels than his predecessors combined. His predilection for off-island travel took off in the House of Representatives, continues on to the Senate and exceptionally increased in frequency more so as Governor. There were days in a month when Governor Torres spent more time outside of the Commonwealth than here at home governing. These off-island moonlighting travels, the bonanza, was completely paid for by tax payers money- the people of the Commonwealth.

The cumulative documentations of his highly questionable travel voucher claims filed for government (public funds) reimbursements, clearly indicated a premeditated and conscious attempt to raid the CNMI treasury for his personal gain. I thought back then in June 17, 2015 when former Governor Fitial addressed Superior Court Associate Judge David Wiseman, pleading for mercy for his misconduct in public office and theft of services, that the act of contrition and shame finally appears to have social redeeming value. Unfortunately, our people underestimated the Trumpism behavior of Governor Torress where shamelessness has no soul-searching effect whatsoever on the man because he acts with complete impunity.

Using the power of his office to defraud the Commonwealth government of its meager financial resources to enrich himself at a time when hundreds of our citizens are still living under temporary shelters and substandard living conditions, government employees working hours were critically reduced thus, their ability to meet financial obligations are place in jeopardy. More troubling though is that a good percentage of our local children are suffering from malnutrition and still some are missing a meal a day. This is truly heart breaking and only an unconscionably heartless leader would do such an act. A leader who takes advantage of his citizens at a time of despair is callously irredeemable, especially when the condition of despair was partly his leadership failure.

Strange transformation in deed of a leader who proclaimed to the entire people of the Commonwealth and openly bestow upon himself the veneration of a redeemer for our pain and sufferings. During the campaign he created this venerated illusion of himself as the righteous of and savior from our ills. With factual revelation of self-enrichment at the expense of the poor, we’re now seeing the true identity of Governor Torres — from the elusive and deceitful leader to the eventual stigma of a disgraceful man besieged for his premeditated and corrupted acts.

Governor Ralph Torres has profoundly demeaned the Office of the Governor of which he was elected to provide moral and ethical leadership. The consequential remedy of a premeditated ethical lapse is removal from office, band from ever serving in any capacity in any branch of our government, not to mention societal shame and ridicule.

The Democrats negotiated the Covenant to achieve self-government in exercising our political self-determination to experience a progressively better quality of lives for our citizens. For the past decades however, we have voted leaders into office only to be dismayed by their egregious conduct at the expense of the wellbeing of our citizens. We often see this type of leadership behavior in autocratic regimes where the audacity of arrogance is abounded.

The CNMI in the past 32 years, has been a fertile ground for graft and corruption. Disappointingly, it is endemic in the Republican Party based on recorded history. Why our people continue to tolerate its recurrences is something that should concern this community a great deal. The consequential effects of a community that silently tolerates or assent to malfeasances in government, stand the risk of losing its law-abiding investors and discourage visitors to come to our islands. A recipe for a man-made economic calamity.

It appears that some of our citizens think that employment in the government requires that they surrender their allegiance to Governor Torres rather than uphold their true fidelity to the standard of ethical and moral behavior. Thousands of school children, not only reading about intentional obstruction of justice by the Governor, but are watching his conduct destroy their future and the institutions of their government. What kind of a legacy is Governor Torres leaving behind and how can he help our children memorialize their own value system and life experiences if he is the prime perpetrator of its destruction?

If we are to save this community and ourselves from the infestations of moral decay and ethical indecency in our government, we need to challenge our own personal commitment to the rule of law and how much we value law and order.

I hope our people’s resolution for the New Year is to recognize and demand that we, as a community, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by the leaders we elect into public service because “Public Service is a Public Trust,” or maybe Governor Ralph Torres thinks this is just a catchy political slogan.

The writer is a resident of Kanat Tabla, Saipan.

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