The sky is still not falling

REGARDING House Bill 22-33, let’s take the House majority bloc’s statements at face value: they want accountability and transparency, and they don’t trust the governor. That is their political opinion. Perfectly understandable, really, because if the shoe is on the other foot, it is more than likely that the other party would be echoing the House leadership’s “concerns.”

We resolve political differences through a constitutional democratic process, and we pass laws through a democratic legislative process.  This should be obvious to everyone, but probably not to some politicians and their supporters who apparently believe that what they say is gospel truth, and what they recommend is beyond dispute, and therefore arguing with them is pointless if not immoral.

Moreover, the House leadership seem to be saying, unlike the bills pushed by the other party, their bill could be passed even without public hearings on the three main islands or a committee review/report. It is not “railroading” if they’re the ones doing it. And so they pushed legislation that they could only “pass” by using an old rule that they were about to change because it wasn’t “democratic.”

But again, let’s take their word for it. “The people of the CNMI” would want the federal funds spent only on the items spelled out by the federal law. Fair enough.  But is H.B. 22-33 the only way to achieve this goal?

How about we identify first the existing federal restrictions and other rules attached to the expenditure of the funds. Then we determine how lawmakers and concerned citizens can monitor compliance with those restrictions and rules. This shouldn’t be hard. In the previous House, the minority bloc members (who are now in the majority) held oversight hearings and meetings, and subpoenaed documents, etc. Surely now that they are in leadership positions, they have more tools at their disposal if they want to keep track of the expenditure of public funds, including federal monies provided to the CNMI.

They could also, for example, consider the public auditor’s suggestion to require “individual agencies receiving the funds to forward reports on spending to the Legislature. Each agency has bookkeepers and accountants with the skillsets to manage and report on finances. Alternatively, the Legislature could require the Department of Finance…to track the spending and report back to the Legislature.  The [department] is constitutionally mandated to control and regulate the expenditure of public funds.”

The proponents of H.B. 22-33, however, want us to believe that legislative appropriation — and they are talking about this Legislature which has a divided House of Representatives and a Republican-led Senate — is just as “good” as the federal restrictions already in place. Really?

“Should one person, the governor, be the sole decision-maker for how half a billion dollars should be distributed?” was the rhetorical question of a House majority bloc member.

Here’s a two-part, non-rhetorical answer:

1) The American Recue Plan Act — which was the handiwork of the Democratic Congress and the Democratic president of the U.S.  who are mighty proud of it — does not require state/territorial legislative appropriation.

2)  The CNMI governor is “one person” who is duly elected by Commonwealth voters and is directly accountable to them; s/he must comply with laws, local and federal; otherwise, s/he can be impeached, recalled or sued by ordinary citizens.

Which reminds us. Whatever happened to the then-minority bloc’s “findings” regarding the governor’s expenditures? Some House members are of the opinion that the governor violated laws. (We’re quite sure that under the Constitution, only a court of law can determine if laws were broken.) In any case, what are they going to do about their findings then? Deliver another speech?

Once upon a time, when the governor was a Democrat and the CNMI economy was booming and the government was collecting revenues like they were seashells on the beach, it was the Republican opposition that was complaining about the governor’s “abuse of power,” and “misspending” of public funds. They took away the governor’s control over public lands while a concerned citizen filed a taxpayer’s lawsuit. They did what they believed must be done — instead of talking about it, endlessly.

The Covid-19 vaccine and the firefighters

WE appreciate our firefighters, paramedics and other DFEMS personnel. And we respect and acknowledge the concerns of the 11 firefighters who choose not to get the Covid-19 vaccine. We hope, in turn, that they respect and acknowledge the concerns of the over 20,000 residents (and counting) who have taken the vaccine, and are eagerly looking forward to a safer community with fewer restrictions so that more businesses can re-open and/or provide more services; more students can return to their classrooms; and more family members, including the manamko’, can get together, again. (A recent news item from the U.S.: “After Vaccine, Grandparents Visit Family — Emotional Reunions Follow Covid-19 Separations….”)

To be sure, due process must be afforded to the 11 firefighters. We’re also hoping that they and other community members who have similar concerns will discuss them with medical doctors they trust. We should all try to be better informed about this issue, and that involves hearing from all sides, and determining which are reputable and credible.

One final reminder from a man of science who many believe is both, Neil deGrasse Tyson, PhD: “Nobody writes stories about not dying by not contracting Covid-19.”

Editor

Zaldy Dandan is the recipient of the Best Editorial Writer Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the CNMI Humanities Award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism. His three books are available on amazon.com

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