Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan) formally asked the Office of the Public Auditor on Friday to “investigate” Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham's signing of a 25-year power purchase agreement that has a guaranteed price of $190.8 million, the same day the Senate adopted a resolution asking for the “cancellation” of the PPA until a full economic analysis is made.
Acting governor Eloy S. Inos already asked for a full economic analysis of the PPA.
That independent study is being done by economist.com, sources said.
This is on top of reviews being done by the Office of the Attorney General and at least three legislative committees.
Inos didn't know about Fitial and Buckingham's actual signing of the PPA until it was reported by the media.
As of last night, there's no word yet from the administration whether it has already cancelled the PPA, although sources said Saipan Development LLC may have already signed the contract.
This power purchase agreement is among the most expensive government contracts in CNMI history.
But unlike other hefty contracts, only a few knew about Fitial and Buckingham's signing of the 41-page PPA on Aug. 3.
That was a day before Buckingham left the CNMI and 11 days before Fitial left for a three-day trip to Hawaii, American Samoa, and Florida.
There is no telling yet whether Fitial would meet with any representative of Saipan Development LLC on this trip, but lawmakers said they won't be surprised if that's a part of the governor's plan.
The request for OPA investigation also came two weeks since OPA filed criminal charges against Buckingham in connection with his alleged hosting of a delegate candidate gathering at the governor's private residence in 2010 and the former AG's signing of an almost $400,000 sole-source ARRA management contract to Michael Ada within days of resigning as Commerce secretary.
Dela Cruz, in his one-page letter received by OPA on Friday afternoon, also asks OPA to review “all ethical and legal issues” pertaining to the deal that has cast doubt on Fitial and Buckingham's motives and justification in signing the 25-year deal.
The lawmaker said this review “should include but not limited to whether the contract was negotiated and executed legally and in good faith.”
Dela Cruz said the review should also include “whether the Legislature should have been able to approve the PPA prior to its execution by Governor Fitial and former AG Buckingham by two-thirds of its membership as a public debt pursuant to Article X section 3 of the CNMI Constitution.”
OPA has yet to respond to media inquiries about Dela Cruz's letter.
Dela Cruz is chair of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation's Public Utilities and Infrastructure Committee, and a member of the House Committee on Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications.
Plan of action
The House Committees on PUTC chaired by Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan) and the Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations chaired by Rep. Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan) held a joint meeting on Friday to discuss their ongoing reviews of the PPA.
Demapan said yesterday that as part of their review, they will ask pertinent documents from entities involved including CUC, OAG and the Department of Public Lands.
“Once we get the documents we requested, we will determine our plan of action. The request letters could be out on Monday. Our goal is to find out the truth, and come up with a report on this,” Demapan told Saipan Tribune.
The Senate PUTC is also reviewing the PPA, starting with a meeting with CUC acting executive director Alan Fletcher on Thursday afternoon.
“With too many unanswered questions during the meeting with CUC, the PUTC Committee recommended a resolution asking to hold off on the contract until a full study is done,” said Senate PUTC chair Sen. Juan Ayuyu (Ind-Rota).
The Senate, in adopting Senate Resolution 17-94 on Friday, said the PPA has to be canceled until a comprehensive economic analysis is made to determine the fiscal impact of the deal on the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. and ratepayers.
House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) said a similar resolution is planned in the House, and earlier said “the way this contract was crafted and the manner in which it was executed reeks of corruption.”