House special committee may seek OPA’s guidance

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THE chairman of the newly formed House Special Committee on Fiscal Review of Executive Expenditures, Rep. Ralph N. Yumul, on Tuesday said they may seek guidance from the Office of the Public Auditor.

“Just for the record, on Dec. 10, the [House] minority [bloc] sent an [Open Government Act request] to the secretary of Finance, and a list of documents were sent to the minority’s office and was presented [to the House] a couple of months ago. That pretty much sums up…[why Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao’s] created the [new special] committee,” said  Yumul who also chairs the House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding as well as the House Committee on Gaming.

“I haven’t really gone through the list [of categories of the governor’s spending] that was given to us, but it’s pretty much the expenditures of the…executive branch,” he said, noting that the list includes expenditures on official representation as well as travel.

He said from what he has seen, the documents received dates back to as early as 2014.

He said the committee will  hold an organizational meeting “as early as Monday next week.”

When asked about the timing of these House inquiries given that it is an election year, Yumul said:

“The committee is bipartisan, so it’s going to be very fair. I don’t think politics will be a part of the committee…. We’re just the checks and balances of the different branches. We’re just going to review and see and hopefully be guided by our counsel, and maybe [the Office of the Public Auditor] should be called in.”

He added, “We haven’t decided yet how to go about viewing [the documents], but there is going to be some guidance with legal counsel or the Office of the Public Auditor…. There is a process when a complaint is brought up…we’re going to have to do our job and look at it….”

He said the “committee’s job is to investigate if there is waste, and then at the end of the day, we will report to the body and that’s when the body will decide what to do. But it does give the opportunity for the administration to come in and justify each expenditure or receipts that they spent.”

In a separate interview, Secretary of Finance David Atalig said he is “prepared to answer any questions that the committee has. We have nothing to hide. We will share what exactly we’re spending and…the reasons why we spent what we spent.”

He added, “I have really no comment on all the expenses prior to my time. I do know that there are some expenditures that the former secretary had approved…. The documents don’t lie, and so, should the oversight happen regarding the governor’s expenses, I’m happy to represent the Finance Department.

He said “should there be some expenses that shouldn’t have been approved or didn’t follow some procedures, I’m going to make those changes to ensure that they won’t be repeated.”

Atalig was appointed secretary of Finance in April last year.

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