House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan) appointed yesterday eight members of a Special Committee on Impeachment to review a milestone resolution initiating impeachment proceedings against Gov. Benigno R. Fitial for 16 acts of felony, corruption and neglect of duty, even as the governor prepares to address the allegations against him.
Four of the panel members are from the minority bloc. The other four are from the leadership, which is aligned with the governor's Republican Party.
All committee members are seeking re-election in the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
The speaker appointed House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) as chairman of the eight-member panel that will review each of the alleged five acts of corruption, seven acts of neglect of duty, and four commissions of felonies.
Deleon Guerrero is the main author of the impeachment resolution co-authored by six other House minority members.
“I really didn't expect the speaker would appoint me as chair. But I respect his decision and I accept it,” he told Saipan Tribune yesterday.
He said he has started touching base with other appointees and reviewing the House rules that govern special committees. “The first meeting of the full committee will be called next week. Right now, it's more about reviewing House rules,” he said, adding that the panel's role is likened to a grand jury that will determine whether the allegations rise to the level of impeachment.
The Fitial administration has labeled the impeachment move as “frivolous.”
If and when the impeachment resolution gets at least 14 votes from the House, the Senate will have to investigate it and would need at least six votes to convict the governor.
So far, only eight lawmakers have gone on record saying they will vote “yes” to the resolution.
This is the first time in CNMI history that a resolution to impeach a governor has been introduced, and only the second attempt to remove a sitting governor.
Besides Joe Deleon Guerrero, the three other members of the special committee from the minority bloc are: Reps. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan), Tony Sablan (R-Saipan), and Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan).
The four committee members from the House leadership are vice speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan), Reps. Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), Joe Palacios (R-Saipan), and Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan).
Cabrera gave the special committee 30 days to report to the full House.
Palacios said the committee doesn't need to exhaust the full 30 days.
“We should be done in two weeks or earlier. We should be concentrating on more critical issues such as the hospital, medical referral and the Retirement Fund. Our patients are suffering, and you see them and their relatives panhandling because they don't have funds to seek medical treatment off island. But instead of addressing those, others are focusing more on other issues,” he added.
'Why did Fitial sign it?'
Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee chair Rep. Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan) said his panel will meet next week to go over the documents related to the secretive 25-year power purchase agreement that Fitial signed off with Saipan Development LLC.
This no-bid contract and $190.8 million agreement are among the issues in the impeachment resolution.
“We'd love for the governor to explain to the committee why he signed this contract. Why was the Legislature not informed about it if it's good for the CNMI? Did it comply with procurement regulations? These are just some of the questions we have for the governor and those who signed it,” Demapan said.