AS the governor’s political opponents in the House continue to belabor the findings of a 24-page report they issued early this year and posted online, we would like to know if they’re also interested in looking into truly wasteful government spending that could involve tens of millions of dollars in public funds annually. We’re talking about an across-the-board review of CNMI government expenditures, and possible ways to reduce them while still providing essential public services.
But that’s not going to happen anytime soon because it is not politically expedient.
Now regarding the governor’s expenses that his opponents say — insist — are questionable if not illegal: can someone ask about the funding source? Is it the budget of the governor’s office? As for his utility expenses, we would also like to know the estimated cost of renovating and then maintaining the governor’s official residence, and who was paying for the utility bills when it was still habitable.
As the Finance secretary pointed out, the bill to repeal a 1980 law that provides government housing to the governor, lt. governor, Senate president and House speaker is punitive and politically motivated, but at least it intends to address what its proponents believe is a problem. So why stop there? There should also be legislation to specifically restrict or reduce the budget for the governor’s travels, official representation, etc. Of course if a Democrat is elected governor next year, then his/her allies in the Legislature could scrap the restrictions imposed on a Republican governor. (“Elections have consequences,” as Democrat President Barack “I Won” Obama once put it.)
Last year, Variety reported the Office of the Public Auditor’s findings regarding CNMI government travel expenditures. OPA, among other things, noted that the Department of Finance “did not develop and implement a uniform travel policy by regulation as required by the law.” OPA mentioned Public Law 15-86 which prohibits government first-class or business-class travels. According to that law, “Any government employee who causes an airline ticket to be issued in violation of this section shall pay a civil fine of one thousand dollars.”
In March 2021, Variety quoted the public auditor as saying “that regulations do not appear to explicitly prohibit the purchase of first-class and business class airline tickets.” Finance then informed OPA about a proposed uniform travel policy published in the Commonwealth Register in Sept. 2020. Finance said the travel policy was based on OPA’s concerns which included the lack of restrictions on first-class and business airfare for CNMI officials. Finance stated that “with the promulgation of a uniform travel policy, all travel processes for Commonwealth government employees are consistent with all applicable laws, and allow for the most economical use of government resources while preventing fraud, waste, and abuse.”
Perhaps the House leadership may want to verify if that statement is true. Perhaps the House leadership may also want to solicit the legal opinions of the attorney general and the governor’s legal counsel as part of a “fair, diligent and responsible investigation,” to quote the then-House minority bloc’s report which is the basis of the ongoing theatrics hearings on Capital Hill.
The likely “ending” of this daytime soap investigation? The introduction of a House impeachment resolution against the governor. It will help keep the drama issue alive all throughout the upcoming election year, especially now that the CNMI’s Republican administration has been provided — by the Democrat U.S. Congress and president — with hundreds of millions of federal dollars that can help revive the local economy…in an election year.
Don’t you just love politics?
WHAT’S the point of the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the DPS budget? Is it to drag the DPS chief — preferably kicking and screaming — into the House chamber and show him who’s the boss? We thought that a budget hearing — even if conducted by morally upstanding, pure of heart lawmakers — is mainly about the budget, and not an opportunity to get a rise out of a political appointee of a political opponent.
The House committee members, to be sure, can always email their written questions to the DPS chief who can then provide relevant, detailed and informative answers. But where’s the fun in that?