THE Democrats in the House of Representatives are considering the rejection of Republican Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ Executive Order No. 2021-08, which renews the Finance secretary’s authority to reprogram funds.
The Democrats and their independent allies hold 10 of the House’s 20 seats.
The executive order, which the governor issued on April 19, extends for another 30 days the Finance secretary’s authority to reprogram or transfer funds from any department, agency, office, board, commission, corporation, instrumentality or other entity of any branch of government to meet the Covid-19 threat.
During a session on Friday, Rep. Sheila Babauta, a Democrat, said this “unlimited reprogramming power is really a concern for me and many members of our community, especially those who work in the executive branch.”
She said that she supports Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez’ decision to refer the governor’s April 19 executive order to Ways and Means Committee and requested its chairman, Rep. Donald Manglona to seriously look into it.
Villagomez and Manglona are independents aligned with the Democrats.
Babauta said, aside from American Rescue Plan Act funding, the CNMI also stands to receive federal financial assistance for education and infrastructure projects, so it would be close to a billion dollars in federal monies that are coming in.
With this huge amount of federal monies coming in, Babauta said it is really important that the Legislature discuss the executive order that the governor has been renewing every month for over a year now.
She said allowing the Finance secretary to move money from any department, agency, commission, corporation instrumentality and even government branches including the Legislature, “is a very high level of power.”
Babauta said the Planning and Budgeting Act already grants department heads a 25% reprogramming authority.
Another Democrat, Rep. Celina Babauta said she doesn’t see language in the CNMI Constitution that gives the Finance secretary “unlimited reprogramming power,” and allows the governor to delegate his reprogramming authority to anyone.
She also expressed doubt if the governor can still use the Covid-19 pandemic as justification for “unlimited reprogramming power.”
Manglona said as soon as the session adjourns, he would schedule a committee meeting to discuss the governor’s EO No. 2021-08.
He also agrees that “this is something that we can tackle” in the early weeks of May.
Democratic Rep. Tina Sablan thanked Rep. Sheila Babauta for raising the issue, saying she agrees it is a serious matter and that the Legislature should discuss it.
She said she supports rejecting the governor’s executive order.
She also thanked Manglona for expediting the review of the executive order so the committee can obtain legal research on the constitutionality of the unlimited reprogramming power for the Finance secretary, and look for options in rejecting the executive order.
Asked for comment, Press Secretary Kevin Bautista said:
“Last time that we checked, the CNMI and the whole country are in a public health emergency. Covid-19 hasn’t fully disappeared. The reprogramming authority was critical in keeping the CNMI safe from the pandemic by prioritizing funding and resources that are for critical services such as quarantine, testing, and acquiring personal protective equipment for our healthcare workers and first responders. At the same time, the CNMI was able to keep basic public services afloat in order to support the ongoing Covid-19 operation. This is proper policy to protect our community. The NMI Democrats’ response a whole year later after protecting our community is questionable and is driven by petty politics. This administration will continue to focus on policy that protects our people over politics that drives our community apart.”