Rep. Janet Maratita's (Ind-Saipan) taxpayer's lawsuit against Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham over a secretive $190-million power purchase agreement has drawn support from other lawmakers, while Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan) described yesterday the 25-year contract as “smelly” and that no amount of “political perfume” can cover up that smell.
“I applaud her for filing the temporary restraining order and I support her actions 100 percent,” said Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan).
Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan) said he welcomes the lawsuit although he thinks the contract is currently not moving anywhere.
“But I welcome anything that will keep it from not moving forward or not moving at all until we get to the bottom of this issue,” he said.
Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) said it was what the Senate intended when it adopted a resolution on Friday asking for the cancellation of the agreement until a full economic analysis is done.
But Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan) said absent proof that Saipan Development LLC has affixed its signature on the PPA, he cannot comment on the lawsuit at this time.
The administration has yet to comment on the lawsuit as of last night.
Maratita, through counsel Ramon K. Quichocho, filed yesterday afternoon a taxpayer's lawsuit against Fitial, Buckingham, the Commonwealth Utilities Corp., and Saipan Development LLC over the signing of the agreement.
The lawmaker also filed a motion for temporary restraining order and a motion for preliminary injunction in Superior Court to prevent Fitial, Buckingham, and Saipan Development LLC from pursuing the PPA.
Maratita asked the Superior Court to declare that the power purchase agreement is unconstitutional, illegal, unconscionable, and unjust, and therefore cancelled.
'Smelly, quickie contract'
Torres, chairman of the House Committee on Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications, said based on several comments he received, “the consensus is that no matter how much political perfume the governor's office plans to spray on this mess, it will still smell of a sweetheart pile of wheeling and dealing crap.”
“Island leaders are asking why is the Governor's Office attempting to invest in brand new and expensive fossil fuel- burning diesel engines for the power plant, when former CUC executive director Abe Malae had earlier reported that our existing diesel engines, if properly maintained, could last another 10 years or more?” Torres asked.
Besides, he said, there are public laws in place to transfer the CUC's power plant diesel engines to cheaper and cleaner renewable energy resources, which can be accomplished in the next 10 years.
Torres and Dela Cruz, also a member of the House PUTC Committee, have been combining their efforts to “get to the bottom” of what they described as “misguided bombshell that struck the CNMI,” referring to the 25-year power purchase agreement between the Governor's Office and Saipan Development LLC.
The PPA has a guaranteed price of $190.8 million but it could easily exceed $200 million in 25 years because the CNMI also has to pay for fuel and maintenance fee, among other things.
Torres and Dela Cruz, in a joint statement, said they raised several unanswered questions about this “disconcerting quickie contract” with acting CUC executive director Alan Fletcher, “who kept repeating he couldn't answer the very pertinent questions until he cleared them first with his boss, governor Fitial, who is currently off-island.”
They sought several missing documents through the CNMI Open Government Act, and the House PUTC will deliver a more final position statement once those documents are received.
“Even though I haven't seen the supporting documents, which CUC will most likely try to conceal through legal maneuvers, from what I've seen so far my impression of the contract can be summed up in one word: smelly,” said Torres, a known Fitial ally.
Torres and Dela Cruz also said they are “disappointed in this latest display of lack of transparency.”
Dela Cruz, also the chair of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation's Committee on Public Utilities and Infrastructure, earlier asked the Office of the Public Auditor to “investigate” Fitial and Buckingham's signing of the PPA.
Even acting governor Eloy S. Inos didn't know about Fitial and Buckingham's actual signing of the PPA until it was reported by the Saipan Tribune last week.
As of last night, there's no word yet from the administration whether it is already in possession of a copy of the PPA signed by Saipan Development LLC, which remains a mystery company organized in Delaware five days prior to signing an initial agreement with the CNMI in March.
This PPA 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-week trip to Hawaii, American Samoa, and Florida.