A new website called CNMI LeakSource, seeking to promote transparency and accountability in government, posted yesterday an anonymously leaked copy of a Jan. 13, 2012 bench warrant for Saipan Mayor Donald Flores for failing to appear in court on Dec. 7, 2011 in connection with unpaid debts to Dollar Rent-A-Car.
But this early, CNMI LeakSource's creation has been drawing varied reactions, including “caution” on the type of information being leaked and posted online.
In the case of a leaked copy of the bench warrant, the Saipan mayor said yesterday he will be paying today the $300 cash bail to the Clerk of Court.
“I hope this will not destroy all the many good things me and the Saipan Mayor's Office have done for the community,” Flores told Saipan Tribune.
The bench warrant, signed by Superior Court Associate Judge Perry B. Inos, remains in force one year from its date, unless earlier quashed or vacated.
CNMI LeakSource can be accessed at http://cnmileaksource.webuda.com/Home/.
Press secretary Angel Demapan said yesterday that “accountability and transparency in government is the total opposite of anonymous sources.”
He said the administration does not validate or dignify anonymous information circulated via the Internet or through other forms of media.
“In order for information to be adequately validated or viewed as credible, the source too, must be willing to exercise transparency so that their message is put forth while being accountable for it. The use of anonymous sources undermines the trustworthiness of an industry that already generates too much mistrust,” Demapan said when asked for comment.
Demapan also said the issuance of bench warrants is a function of the courts, and bench warrants do not get sent to the governor so that he can talk to the subject to surrender himself or appear in court.
“There is a judicial process that governs the issuance of bench warrants. The administration does not have any role in that process,” he added.
Glen Hunter, a concerned citizen, said he is a believer in “principled leaking” but said “certain precautions should be taken when leaking information or furthering leaked information.”
Hunter, who visited the website only after media inquiry yesterday, said “principled leaking,” to him, means that information that is of value to society as a whole should not be kept secret for the personal gain of a few or at the expense of others.
“Those involved, such as this newly created site, should ensure that the material is properly vetted or checked out. The vetting will ensure that it is authentic and factual and that proper care is taken as to not endanger anyone's personal safety (especially innocent bystanders) or create any ethical issues. Should there be personal safety or ethical concerns, simply redacting portions rather than not leaking the information may suffice,” he said.
CNMI LeakSource, in its website, says they “will only be posting leaks with sufficient evidence (you must send in any supporting documents, files, and/or images with your submission), to ensure that everything we put out is completely factual.”
Florida-based human rights activist and former CNMI teacher Wendy Doromal, in her blog Unhead No More, said “CNMI LeakSource is the work of five concerned CNMI citizens.”
“In a place where corruption, cover-ups, back-door deals, and sole-source contracts are common place, this is surely a welcome site. Any CNMI citizen can submit documents completely anonymously to the CNMI LeakSource,” she said.
Lawmakers asked about the website yesterday said they have yet to visit the website, reserving comments at this time.
Hunter said a prime example of “principled leaking” would be the past release of an Office of the Public Auditor report that was released by a “spnwikileaks” individual.
The Fitial administration suppressed the release of that OPA report.
Hunter said that OPA report was factual and contained information that was of value to the society as a whole.
“The information was being withheld to protect the former (now fugitive) attorney general Edward T. Buckingham and Mr. Fitial. A concerned party was able to access that document and bring it to light. I believe that principled leaking played an important part in the path to justice that we see unfolding today,” he said.
The House minority bloc introduced a resolution impeaching Fitial for 16 allegations of felony, corruption and neglect of duty.
Among those issues are connected to the subject of the OPA report on the former AG's hosting of a “meet and greet” for a delegate candidate. The impeachment resolution states that Fitial failed to discharge his duties by not removing Buckingham even after OPA found violations.
Hunter, however, “cautioned” the new site owners/moderators that “when fighting against public corruption, it is very easy to become what you are fighting against.”
“I would hope that this new site does not allow just any rumor or gossip to make its way into the public domain as 'proven' leaks without due diligence on the part of the site owner,” he added.
In her blog, Doromal said “CNMI LeakSource was founded because of the obvious lack of transparency when it comes to our government officials and their business partners. We believe that certain corrupt individuals are only able to continue their corruption because the public is largely unaware of their acts.”
“In an effort to finally put an end to corruption in the CNMI, we launched CNMI LeakSource as a way for anyone in the islands to take part in whistleblower activities with the safety and comfort of guaranteed anonymity; thus removing any chances of repercussion in the future, and removing any fears of retribution that would normally hold someone back from releasing something that the public deserves to know,” Doromal said, quoting CNMI LeakSource.
It adds that the site is part of the movement for public transparency as established by Wikileaks, but it is also precursor to a much larger idea called Project Mayhem 2012, which is being handled by Anonymous and will launch in December of this year.