Gov. Benigno R. Fitial didn't respond yesterday to each of the 16 allegations contained in a resolution to impeach him but issued a public statement urging the public and lawmakers to focus instead on saving the pension system, healthcare, utilities services, and expanding revenue-generating industries.
This came even as the Special Committee on Impeachment already scheduled 12 meetings starting on Thursday.
In his four-page statement, the governor “begged” for people's patience and forgiveness on the “shortcomings of those who do not understand my motivations or my actions.”
He also blamed the Senate and “a few chosen elected individuals” for using the solutions he offered “as a negative political tool in order to cover up their years of inaction and lack of leadership to address our most serious of issues.” (Sidebar: Full text of the governor's statement)
“It greatly saddens me when those who do not understand my actions accuse me of wrongdoing, which has contributed to the current dispute regarding [the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.'s] Power Plant 1,” he said.
Fitial's statement didn't sit well with some officials and community members.
“I am not surprised at all by Mr. Fitial's lack of an adequate response to the serious allegations put forward in the Articles of Impeachment. Rather than asking for forgiveness, accepting responsibility for his misdeeds and doing the right thing by resigning from office, he has the audacity to continue to do what he has done since day one-and point blame at external factors and other people. This response is an insult to the intelligence of the public. The CNMI deserves so much more,” said Glen Hunter, a concerned citizen.
The House minority bloc's House Resolution 17-111 listed 16 articles of impeachment for felony, corruption, and neglect of duty.
Fitial said the current proceedings “seem to be based on politics and the upcoming election.”
He also said all the actions of his administration are open for full examination by multiple independent agencies including the Office of Public Auditor, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Office of Inspector General. He said these agencies are specifically structured to present a professional independent review of all the administration's actions.
“If errors are made, then people must be held accountable. However, I do not see any benefit of supporting or engaging in a politically driven investigation right before an important election that will divide our community and distract us from focusing on trying to solve the critical issues of our Retirement Fund; healthcare system; utility costs; and the economy,” the governor said.
Hunter said as Fitial has stated time and time again, the representatives are moving to impeach “in order to gain political favor with the voters” and “this is not disputed.”
“The CNMI is speaking and we are asking our representatives to impeach the governor,” he said.
'Circumventing the process'
House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), chairman of the Impeachment Committee and lead author of the impeachment resolution, wrote to Fitial yesterday, advising him not to respond to each of the articles of impeachment so as not to circumvent the impeachment process that has already started.
“He can and should defend himself in the Senate. To do so at the House will circumvent and influence the impeachment process. The House is not the place to defend himself, but the Senate,” Deleon Guerrero told Saipan Tribune.
The governor said it's unfortunate that it's only been the House leadership that has continued discussion on finding possible solutions to the CNMI's problems.
The House leadership is aligned with the governor.
Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota), when asked for comment, said the governor “has seven years under his belt and declared emergency at the hospital, the Retirement Fund and CUC so he could suspend laws and regulations” but still blames others.
“He now has totalitarian and dictatorial administration just like Castro of Cuba. The Public Utilities Commission, for example, was created by law to review utilities contracts yet the governor suspended that law to approve a $190-million power agreement without the review of PUC,” Manglona said.
Lower utility costs
Fitial said the CNMI needs to resolve four major issues within the next 90 days: restructuring of the NMI Retirement Fund, restructuring the public healthcare system, lowering of utility costs, and expanding the revenue-generating industries.
He went on to explain what his administration has been doing to address all these.
Hunter said the “governor claims his interests are with the CNMI and he has done no wrong.”
“Aside from OPA, DOI, IG, and other agencies, our great founders have also empowered the Legislature to investigate and hold accountable the governor and when needed to impeach. This is not only their right but also their duty when they witness gross neglect of duty. And while the governor may have believed that this Constitutional Right of Impeachment would never be executed [but that will] not make it miraculously disappear,” he said.
Hunter added that he is “so proud of the CNMI House of Representatives for moving forward with holding the governor accountable for his actions.”
“The governor will be afforded a chance to plead his case and beg for more time before the Senate. In that setting he can be forced to defend all of the 16 articles of impeachment put before him and not avoid addressing his gross neglects of duty, abuses of power, and corrupt acts,” he said.
Impeachment panel meetings
The chairman of the Impeachment Committee issued a notice yesterday of the 12 meetings they will be conducting between Sept. 13 and Sept. 28.
The first meeting, which is likened to an organizational meeting wherein rules will be established, is set for Sept. 13, Thursday, 2pm, in the House chamber on Capital Hill.
The succeeding meetings will be held every 9am in the House chamber on the following dates: Sept. 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 27, and 28.
Deleon Guerrero said the meetings are open to the public.
The eight-member committee has four from the House leadership and four from the minority bloc.
This is the first time in CNMI history that a resolution impeaching the governor has been introduced.
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 him.
So far, only eight House members have gone on the record to say they will vote “yes” to the resolution, seven of them co-authors.