“It’s our understanding that this committee was created out of two committees already doing work on the expenditures, which is the House Ways and Means Committee, and the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee. I think what’s interesting about this new development from the Legislature is that this [new special] committee is now taking on the work of [these two standing committees].”

He added, “What’s also interesting is the fact that the composition of the committee seems implicitly very targeted. If we’re going to be completely honest with you, at the end of the day — this is what we’ve talked about as staff here in the governor’s office — we have no luxury to play politics. In the midst of a pandemic, economic shortfall, and unprecedented crisis, that not just the Commonwealth is facing, but the whole world as well, the governor does not have the same luxury as the individuals in the Legislature to play politics. Nothing ‘political’ has come out of the administration.”

But he said the administration will respond to inquiries posed by the media, as well as to anyone else.

‘People over politics’

The governor’s special policy advisor, Robert Hunter, left, and Press Secretary Kevin Bautista are interviewed by reporters Tuesday at the governor’s office. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

However, he added, the administration believes that public health, the safety of Commonwealth residents and the economy remain the top issues.

As for the latest special House committee, Bautista said: “I think the people of the Commonwealth can have the vigilance and the awareness to understand that the composition of the special committee is suspect…. This administration, through the Department of Finance, has distributed and given every single document related to the governor’s expenses. It has been put on a Google Doc that people in the Legislature are putting together. What we’re doing right now is we’ve been in full compliance with the Open Government Act. We haven’t shied away from any of that.”

He said the work assigned to the new special committee should be for the Office of the Public Auditor, the Office of the Attorney General, the House Committee on Ways and Means, and the House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations.

The press secretary added, “We’re not trying to connect the dots here, but I think…we can see that…this is intended to [be more of] a witch-hunting expedition than…an actual fact-finding mission. The facts have been already ascertained and furnished for these individuals.”

Bautista said if they “choose to play politics over people, then let them…because for us, we’re going to choose people over politics. That’s all we’ve been doing.”

‘Clear his name’

In a separate interview,  Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao said he created the House Special Committee on Fiscal Review of Executive Expenditures to, among other things, “give the governor an opportunity to clear his name.”

Attao said the House received sealed information transmitted to the House Committees on Ways and Means and Judiciary and Governmental Operations.

He said he instructed the committees to look into the information to ensure that it was factually correct, and to obtain pertinent documents from the Department of Finance.

Attao at the same time noted that the department is also tasked with a whole lot of work relating to the current financial situation of the CNMI government.

As for the Ways and Means Committee, he said it is now working on the fiscal year 2021 budget proposal.

“So I created this new committee,” he added.

“If the accusations [against the governor] are wrong, then they’re wrong. He has been getting hit left and right on negative stuff, but this is a good opportunity for him to clear his name. The committee is not trying to put anybody on the spot or put the governor on the spot, but to give him that pedestal to show that whatever had transpired in the past was wrong or not wrong.”

Attao said the House “has always said that we are going to do everything the right way the first time. We don’t want to keep going back to the past because if we keep doing that, we’re just going to keep repeating the past, and we shouldn’t do that. Let’s do it the right way the first time.”

He said, “It is wiser to not rush and to ensure that they have all of the proper information.”

He said the formation of the new special committee is not a political move.

Four of the eight members of the committee are members of the House minority bloc.

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