House Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications Committee chair Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan) pulled out his panel yesterday from an ongoing probe into a $190.8-million power purchase agreement, five days after Torres and three other PUTC members voted against a resolution impeaching Gov. Benigno R. Fitial related to a host of issues that include the 25-year diesel power plant deal.
PUTC's pullout leaves the Judiciary and Government Operations Committee doing the investigation on the power agreement on its own.
Rep. Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan), chairman of the JGO panel, separately said yesterday that his committee will move on with the investigation.
“As JGO chairman, the committee will proceed with the investigation. However, I would like to see first the completed report of the Impeachment Committee on the PPA so we don't have to duplicate their efforts and I believe that report is forthcoming,” Demapan told Saipan Tribune.
House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), who headed the Special Committee on Impeachment, said yesterday a completed committee report will be forthcoming despite the dissolution of the committee. See related story.
Demapan said the JGO Committee could meet as early as Thursday. “This is not just me, it's the whole committee so all members will have to decide how to go about this investigation,” he added.
PPA and the CNMI
Torres, one of the longest serving lawmakers on Capital Hill, said he now believes the 25-year power purchase agreement is “in the best interest of the CNMI.”
This is contrary to his statements in August when he said, “No amount of “political perfume” can cover a “sweetheart pile of wheeling and dealing crap.”
“Maybe I spoke too early at the time. I believe it's in the CNMI's best interest. You will have a new power plant, 10 percent more efficient than the ones we have right now, and it's going to be operated by a private company,” Torres said in an interview.
Torres also sent a brief memo yesterday to House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan) notifying him of his decision to pull out the PUTC from the probe.
“In light of the recent impeachment hearings in regards to the $190-million PPA and CUC [Commonwealth Utilities Corp.] by your Special Committee on Impeachment, I am informing you that PUTC will no longer partake in the continued investigation of the $190 million PPA and possible CUC oversight hearings,” Torres told the speaker.
Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan), a member of the PUTC Committee and one of those who voted to impeach the governor, questioned whether Torres can unilaterally decide on pulling out the whole committee from such an “important issue at hand.”
He also described Torres' decision as “strange and disappointing” although “not surprising.” Dela Cruz is the chairman of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation's Committee on Public Utilities, Infrastructure and Communications.
As of last night, the speaker has yet to comment on the PUTC panel chairman's decision to withdraw the whole committee from the joint investigation with the JGO panel.
Dela Cruz also strongly disagreed with Torres' statement that the PPA is “in the CNMI's best interest.”
“I don't even believe that Congressman Torres read the whole PPA to come up with an understanding of the issues or if he did, I can't believe after looking at all these provisions, he believes the PPA is good. Him being chairman of the House PUTC, he would brush this aside. This PPA is going to hurt the people of the Commonwealth,” Dela Cruz said.
Cabrera asked both the PUTC and JGO Committees in August to jointly probe the PPA.
The joint probe was intended to determine, among other things, whether the PPA is a “public indebtedness” and should therefore require the Legislature's approval and not only the governor's signature.
Torres said he'd prefer that the full House debate on the issue.
He added that those who oppose the deal could also ask the courts to determine whether the PPA is public indebtedness or not.
Dela Cruz said it is unbelievable and hypocritical for Torres to sing a different tune about the $190.8-million PPA without even weighing the evidence gathered by the Impeachment Committee and the testimony of witnesses, including those from CUC saying the PPA is one-sided, lacked a full economic analysis, and not in the best interest of the CNMI as it is currently written.
Torres said the Special Committee on Impeachment “exaggerated the whole thing” about the PPA.
In the Senate, the Committee on Executive Appointments and Government Investigations continues to look into the use of law enforcement officials and government resources to allegedly shield former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham from being served a penal summons, among other things.
Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian), chairman of the EAGI panel, said he has yet to receive formal reports from the Department of Public Safety and the Commonwealth Ports Authority on the result of their internal investigations. Cruz also recently asked the Office of the Attorney General to conduct an independent probe on the matter.
These investigations into the $190.8-million power purchase deal and the Buckingham “escort” issue continue despite last week's defeat of a resolution impeaching the governor in connection with these same issues and others.