Gov. Benigno R. Fitial told members of the House leadership yesterday that he will soon address the impeachment allegations against him, including those in connection with the 25-year power purchase agreement, even as his administration describes as “frivolous” the impeachment resolution that the House minority bloc will formally introduce today.
Fitial met with at least eight House leadership members over lunch yesterday, but the meeting was mostly on economic development plans, including making the CNMI a regional airline hub.
Lawmakers interviewed after the meeting said the governor didn't ask them to reject the impeachment resolution.
House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan), Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan), and other lawmakers said the governor told them he will address the articles of impeachment in the coming days.
Press secretary Angel Demapan separately confirmed this.
“Yes, the governor will be addressing the allegations for impeachment, including the power purchase agreement in the coming days,” Demapan told Saipan Tribune yesterday.
The administration is not saying yet how the governor will do so: by holding a news conference, delivering a state of the Commonwealth address, or through a televised or written statement.
Cabrera reiterated that he will be forming a special committee on impeachment once the resolution is formally introduced. The House will hold a session at 2pm today.
Demapan said the Fitial administration “certainly” welcomes the formation of such a special committee.
“The next best thing to do after introduction of a frivolous resolution is to convene a committee to look for any merits to the allegations. The governor, like any other person, deserves a fair and impartial proceeding,” Demapan said.
He added: “It is good to know that this early, some House members are already questioning the integrity of the impeachment process if a representative and the Senate are parties in an ongoing litigation on a matter that is also listed as one of the articles of impeachment.”
“It is quite obvious that these members will not be able to act in a fair and impartial manner as they have already conflicted their positions by participating in the ongoing litigation,” the press secretary added.
He was referring to the previous statements of Reps. Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) and Sylvester Iguel (Cov-Saipan), both still undecided on their vote on the impeachment resolution.
Last week, the administration described the allegations as not rising to the level of impeachment proceedings.
'No backing off'
House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), one of the seven who co-authored the impeachment resolution, separately said that today will be “historic,” given that it will be the first time in CNMI history that a resolution impeaching a governor will be formally introduced in a House session.
He said whether they have the numbers or not is not up to him alone.
“We don't have intention of backing off,” he said in an interview at his office yesterday.
The impeachment resolution lists 16 articles of impeachment for felony, corruption and neglect of duty, including those in connection with the release of a federal inmate to massage the governor in January 2010, a sole-source ARRA management contract, non-appointment of a Supreme Court justice, non-remittance of full employer contribution to the now cash-strapped NMI Retirement Fund, not firing his former attorney general, and a no-bid power purchase agreement that has a guaranteed price of $190.8 million.
At least 14 “yes” votes are needed in the 20-member House to impeach the governor, and at least six “yes” votes in the nine-member Senate to convict the governor.
So far, only eight House members have gone on the record to say they will vote “yes” to the impeachment resolution, seven of them co-authors of the resolution.
The House speaker, Villagomez, other lawmakers and the press secretary separately said the governor's meeting with the House leadership centered on improving the CNMI economy.
“He wants to entice airlines to make the CNMI their base. The governor is considering, for example, including airlines in a qualifying certificate program,” said Villagomez, chairman of the House Committee on Commerce and Tourism.
Cabrera said the House leadership supports the administration's focus on economic development.
Demapan said the governor “would like to see the CNMI serve as a regional airline hub.”
“Achieving such would both stimulate our economy and create new jobs for our residents. However, to achieve this vision, the governor would like to work with the Legislature to come up with innovative ways, such as the qualifying certificate program, to provide attractive incentives to commercial airlines. The bottom line here is to create new jobs, get more people to work, and reduce dependency on government handouts,” he said.
Fitial returned to the CNMI yesterday, after three weeks of official and personal trips to Hawaii, American Samoa, Florida, and Boise, Idaho.
He was off-island when news of the secretive power purchase agreement with Saipan Development LLC broke, and when the House minority bloc pre-filed a resolution to impeach him.
The Superior Court also issued a preliminary injunction that prohibits Fitial and co-defendants from pursuing the power purchase agreement, with Rep. Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan), and the Senate as plaintiffs.