Gov. Benigno R. Fitial invited lawmakers yesterday to a joint leadership meeting set for Sept. 25 to discuss four issues, including addressing the needs of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. and the NMI Retirement Fund, but Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) and other lawmakers said the priority now should be to pass and sign a fiscal year 2013 budget measure to avoid another government shutdown.
Fitial's letter, delivered to the Legislature shortly before 4pm yesterday, came a day after he told reporters at a pro-Fitial rally on Sunday about his planned leadership summit.
“Because it is important to continue fostering much needed collaboration for the common good of the people, I would like to call upon the full membership of the CNMI Legislature for a joint leadership meeting,” Fitial said in his one-page letter to Manglona and House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan).
The four topics to be discussed are: improving the economy and government services, initiatives to reduce cost of utilities, affairs of the Fund program moving forward, and addressing CHC's needs.
While some lawmakers welcome the leadership summit, others don't.
“It's a good idea to have a leadership summit but at this time, we need to prioritize the budget. The governor should ask his House leadership conferees to attend budget meetings and work with their Senate counterparts to come up with a budget bill agreeable to the House and Senate,” Manglona told Saipan Tribune.
The Senate president said Fitial is trying to use the leadership summit with lawmakers to help influence the result of the ongoing impeachment process.
A Special Committee on Impeachment is now reviewing the 16 articles of impeachment against the governor for felony, corruption, and neglect of duty.
Fitial said removing him from office won't solve the CNMI's problems such as the high costs of utilities. He said working together would help solve these.
“The governor is trying to create a perception that the Legislature is not doing anything. He just came back from a vacation and while he's gone, lawmakers were dealing with the issues,” Manglona added.
House floor leader George Camacho (Ind-Saipan) said a leadership meeting “is always important.”
“It is always important to try to get the leadership of the CNMI together to work toward a common goal. Many might not be as enthusiastic as previous times, but we cannot stop there. We must continue to try,” he added.
Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) said these meetings between the governor and lawmakers “are always welcomed.”
“We always meet with the hope that both houses and the administration would finally work together,” he said.
Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan) said at this time, “budget is my priority.” Yumul is the alternate budget conferee from the House.
The Conference Committee on the 2013 budget met yesterday afternoon but has yet to disclose the outcome of that meeting, three days after the House leadership conferees didn't show up during Friday's scheduled meeting.
Lawmakers and the administration have until Sept. 30 to pass and enact an FY 2013 budget measure, or the government will have to shut down until a budget is in place.
The leadership meeting is set for Sept. 25, Tuesday, at 11:30am in the Tapochao Room, second floor, at Saipan World Resort in Susupe.
During the last leadership meeting at the same venue, Fitial pushed for the legalization of casino gaming on Saipan and the selling of public lands to investors currently leasing lands where hotels and golf courses are located, among other things. These have yet to materialize.