Because of allegedly deficient notices, Commonwealth Utilities Corp. officials did not show up yesterday morning to testify before the Special Committee on Impeachment on the $190.8-million, 25-year power purchase agreement that is the subject of an allegation of corruption against Gov. Benigno R. Fitial.
But Committee chair and House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) said it had more to do with “miscommunication or lack of communication” between CUC acting executive director Alan Fletcher and CUC legal counsel on the accommodation that the panel extended to Fletcher.
The committee initially gave Fletcher five days from receipt of subpoena to appear but Fletcher asked the panel to reschedule it to an earlier date-yesterday-because he was going off-island.
The panel thus approved an earlier date for Fletcher to appear before them.
Deleon Guerrero subpoenaed on Wednesday Fletcher, CUC chief financial officer Charles Warren, and deputy director for power Wallon Young to testify on the power deal Friday.
Assistant attorney general Rebecca Wrightson, legal counsel for CUC, said “these subpoenas are untimely because notice is deficient pursuant to the requirements of Commonwealth Code Title 1, Section 1302.”
“Therefore, Mr. Fletcher, Mr. Warren, and Mr. Young will not be appearing to testify at the committee's hearing,” Wrightson told Deleon Guerrero.
Citing that particular statute, Deleon Guerrero said a person being served a subpoena needs to be given at least five days to testify, unless a shorter time is necessary, “and if a shorter time is necessary, it has to be approved by the majority of the members and so we did do that.”
In the notice given to Fletcher, however, the committee did not indicate that the majority of the panel approved his appearance in less than five days.
Deleon Guerrero said the CUC legal counsel also pointed out that the subpoena did not indicate that the CUC officials should appear with their counsels.
House legal counsel Joe Taijeron, who helped draft the subpoenas, said yesterday that they made minor technical mistakes. He, however, said the panel assumed that CUC officials would bring their counsels anyway.
Wrightson, in her one-pager letter to the committee chair, said, “Should the committee decide to reissue subpoenas that comply with the Commonwealth Code, Mr. Fletcher, Mr. Warren, and Mr. Young will appear as requested.”
The committee voted to revise the subpoenas that have yet to be sent out, and send amended subpoenas for those that were already sent, to add language indicating the committee approved the appearance of witnesses less than five days from receipt of the notice and that they should bring their counsel if they so choose.
Because Fletcher is going off-island, his and other CUC officials' scheduled appearance before the panel will be moved to a later date.
Deleon Guerrero said he spoke by phone to the CUC legal counsel, who he said “needs more time to prepare for this.”
“I think it's because the testimony that will be provided during this proceeding is admissible in court and there's a court case pending, the TRO. They want to be prepared,” Deleon Guerrero said.
He added that the redrafting and rescheduling of hearings will impact the committee's timeline, although he said they would still be able to meet the 30-day deadline, which ends on Oct. 13.
Deleon Guerrero said that's because Aug. 13 was the first meeting of the committee, so the 30 days started from that date, and not on the day the committee was created by the speaker.
Rep. Joe Palacios (R-Saipan) said he has some questions for Fletcher, given that during a hearing at the Senate in August, Fletcher said he didn't know that a $190.8-million power purchase agreement had been signed, only to hear the governor a week or two later telling the media that Fletcher was there on the day Fitial and then attorney general Edward T. Buckingham signed the deal on Aug. 3.
“It is more of setting the record straight. Integrity and sincerity is in question here,” Palacios told Saipan Tribune.
All eight members of the Special Committee on Impeachment were present yesterday.
The panel is tasked to review and make recommendations to the full House on a resolution impeaching the governor.
House Resolution 17-111 lists 16 articles of impeachment against Fitial for felony, corruption, and neglect of duty.
The committee also crossed off from its list of witnesses three individuals, including former Corrections commissioner Dolores Aldan, because she's off-island.
Aldan was the Corrections commissioner when a federal inmate was temporarily taken out of jail to be transported to the governor's house to give the governor a massage. This “massage incident” is the subject of allegations of corruption and felony.
The two others who won't be subpoenaed anymore are Abigail Borja and Linda Ongelungel because either they're off island or can't be located.