It is indeed shocking and embarrassing to learn this week that the CNMI attorney general, our chief legal officer, was formally charged with violating several laws of the commonwealth-the laws that he swore to uphold and defend.
Whenever government leaders, such as the attorney general, are charged with violating the laws that they are entrusted to uphold and defend, we can only surmise that they have violated the public trust bestowed on them. And because they have violated the public trust, they have no business remaining in public office. If they fail to leave their office voluntarily, they should either be removed or impeached immediately.
The recent incident involving the criminal charges filed against the attorney general appear to be only one of a number of highly questionable decisions and actions that have been made or have taken place in the CNMI government over the past several years. High government officials have on many occasions acted in apparent or actual disregard or violation of either the civil or criminal laws of the commonwealth. We need not go into specific details regarding the questionable decisions and actions taken by commonwealth government officials, for we have been reading about the shenanigans going on in public office for many years now.
For example, we were alarmed when we read about the number of questionable procurement practices by the Commonwealth government about two years ago. Our procurement laws and regulations were either not adhered to or were just simply ignored. We have also been deeply concerned with the questionable and corrupt hiring practices that have been going on in the commonwealth government. We learn about these misdeeds from reading the papers or watching the news. We have learned of public employees being fired because of apparent disloyalty to a political party or party boss, or because of political party affiliation. Individual merit or ability in government employment is not a prerequisite.
The practice in the personnel service and Commonwealth civil service system (intended by the Constitution to be a merit system for the hiring public employees) has been a mockery of everything that we believe to be decent and honorable in a merit-based civil service system.
The highly questionable hiring practices of the Commonwealth government have for many years now created an atmosphere of fear for literally every employee working for the government. A failure to participate in political party functions, for example, jeopardizes one's continuing employment by the government. So long as the hiring government official does not technically contradict the letter of the law, the hiring authority may continue engaging in questionable and unfair hiring practices, i.e. based on party affiliation and blind loyalty. On occasion, such hiring practices have been carried out in violation of personnel rules and regulations. Only when a “whistle-blower” with the courage to speak up comes forth do we become aware of the violation of law that has occurred.
At a time when the Commonwealth is going through so much economic difficulty, the last thing we need is for our public officials themselves to add further difficulty to our lives by continuing to inject politics and political considerations in governmental actions and decision-making. Sadly, this has been the case in the commonwealth for many years now, such that our leaders have begun to think that these questionable practices are now the “norm” in terms of how the government conducts business on behalf of the people. Public officials thus have to be constantly reminded that all questionable political practices in government will not be condoned and that those responsible will, sooner or later, be held accountable for their questionable and unlawful actions.
Politics, for some strange reason, reared its ugly head in government immediately after we began self-government in 1978. “Statesmanship” is a word that was thrown out from the lexicon of the commonwealth government. The intrusion of politics and political considerations in government has contributed to the failure of our leaders to govern the Commonwealth wisely. Unless we correct this political disease in government and stop the corrupt governmental practices that have been going on, the rule of law in the commonwealth will continue to be compromised by our own leaders for their own aggrandizement. I had always thought that we are a “government of law” and not of men.
But I guess this is not the case in the commonwealth, based on the way our leaders have been acting. It is high time the people take action to stop all corrupt practices in government, starting at the top. Holding our public officials accountable is a fresh start, for a change.
Jose S. Dela Cruz