Members of the 18th Senate and House of Representatives took their oaths of office yesterday, most of them expressing commitment to work together to revive the economy, improve healthcare services, lower power rates, save the pension system and prioritize education, while some also advocated a more transparent and accountable government.
The new Legislature preceded one that saw several clashes between the House and Senate and the Fitial administration.
Newly installed Senate President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) and House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan) said in separate interviews that both houses are off to a good start, owing to a good working relationship that their leaderships have already forged.
Chief Justice Alexandro Castro administered the oath of office to the 20 House members, with Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), and other dignitaries witnessing the ceremony in the gallery.
Presiding Judge Robert Naraja administered the oath of office to the eight of nine Senate members present. Sen. Juan Ayuyu (Ind-Rota) was absent from the session because he was in detention pending his trial on charges related to attempts to smuggle endangered fruit bats. Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and other dignitaries were in attendance.
Hofschneider began his seven-minute speech with a call to include in members' prayers the life lost during Sunday's incident that also injured another individual.
He also thanked former Senate President Paul Manglona for leading the 17th Senate and for his over 20 years of service to the CNMI.
One of his children, 20-year-old Ashley, said she's “very proud” of her father being sworn into office as Senate president.
“It's also very humbling to see my dad up there. I am confident he will take all the challenges ahead of him,” she added.
Hofschneider noted that the CNMI economy seems to be “on the verge of a turnabout.”
“And so now, more than ever, there is a need for our government to close the divide that exists between its branches,” he said. “We must set aside our differences and work together with the House of Representatives, the Executive Branch, our business community, and our citizens, to improve our operations, update our procedures, and lay the foundation for the revitalization of our tourism industry.”
This theme was repeated in many of the speeches delivered by Senate and House members.
Sen. Ray Yumul (IR-Saipan), a former representative in the 17th Legislature, said the CNMI is “struggling to raise ourselves from this economic rut” and pointed at the lack of “open and transparent communication between the administration and the Legislature; save for the House leadership who kept most critical information away from the body until the last minute.”
“Yes, the governor did state that he had misjudged his political colleagues who were not of his political affiliation, and yes the community did not receive critical information that would bring hope and understanding but we can overcome the present state of political and economic condition we are in,” Yumul said.
Sen. Pete Reyes (IR-Saipan) said abuses in government should not be tolerated. He called on members to be mindful of the “unmistakable message” that people will no longer sit idly by as shown by the results of the midterm polls.
He said there's a need for complete transparency, a full accountability of public funds, prioritize education, fix the NMI Retirement Fund, and reduce the cost of power generation, among other things.
“The silent majority spoke loud and clear. It's now our job to roll up our sleeves and attend to the needs of the people,” he added.
Senate Vice President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) also pointed to some of the government's missteps in the past that he hopes will be better addressed this time, including the state of the hospital and funding the Public School System.
Newcomer Rep. Richard Seman (R-Saipan) said he's “not here to make a living” but “to make a difference.”
'Not a do-nothing Legislature'
Rep. Felicidad Ogumoro (R-Saipan), in her speech, said she finds it “very disturbing and insulting” for critics to describe the 17th Legislature as a “do-nothing” Legislature.
She said as member of the previous Legislature, she “worked very hard to ensure that government employees did not lose their jobs, and that funds were appropriated to support essential government services.”
“We have so much work ahead of us. And for me, economic recovery should be the top priority for this 18th Legislature,” she said.
Ogumoro later told reporters that impeachment is not on her list of priorities. The new leadership pre-filed a new resolution impeaching the governor. Ogumoro is one of four members of the new minority bloc aligned with the governor.
During the session, the House speaker formally announced the chairmen of the 10 committees that now include a Special Committee on Retirement Fund headed by Rep. Mario Taitano (IR-Saipan). The Senate president said he will announce the committee chairmanships in the next few days.