After several hours of reviewing last year's video footage of testimony from government officials, the Special Investigating Committee on Impeachment adopted yesterday two corruption and neglect of duty charges against Gov. Benigno R. Fitial related to the sole-source award of an almost $400,000 ARRA management contract to former Commerce secretary Michael Ada's Integrated Professional Solutions LLC within days of his resignation, in violation of CNMI laws.
This brings to seven the total number of impeachment articles so far adopted since Jan. 24.
The seven-member panel is expected to act on the remaining 11 of 18 articles of impeachment this week, before presenting them to the full House of Representatives for action.
“You have a company that has not yet been formed, that has not obtained a business license, but yet that contract was approved,” said impeachment panel member and Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan).
He said this is a clear case of “a cart leading the bull,” and a violation of CNMI laws.
Dela Cruz said the governor conspired with the “yet-to-be-formed company,” so there was no plan to bid out the contract.
Rep. Felicidad Ogumoro (R-Saipan), a staunch defender of the governor, was absent from the committee meeting yesterday.
Back in 2010, Ada cited as reason for his resignation as Commerce secretary his plan to pursue his studies. However, days later, it was revealed that a new company that Ada formed had bagged a $392,406 sole-source contract from the government to manage ARRA contracts, similar to his former job when he was with the government. The panel says this violates the law on post-employment restrictions and other ethics laws.
The committee reviewed recorded testimony on the matter by Office of the Public Auditor counsel George Hasselback, Public Auditor Michael Pai, and OPA's Juana Atalig, among others.
At one point, Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan) asked whether there's any proof that the administration contacted any federal ARRA grant provider about a possible loss of federal grants if no ARRA management contract is awarded immediately.
There was no such proof, as the administration itself stated that it did not contact any federal agency on the matter.
At 11:57am yesterday, Dela Cruz moved to adopt Article 8.
Two minutes later, the article on corruption related to the sole-source ARRA management contract award was adopted by a vote of 5-0 with one absence and one resignation.
The five who voted “yes” were impeachment committee chair Rep. Tony Sablan (IR-Saipan), Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan), Rep. Ray Tebuteb (IR-Saipan), Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan), and Rep. Cris Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan).
By a vote of 5-0 as well, the committee adopted Article 16, a neglect of duty charge related to the sole-source ARRA management contract award, at 12:03pm.
An investigative report issued by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of the Interior dated July 14, 2011, found evidence suggesting that the contract to IPS violated multiple CNMI ethics laws including those on post-employment restrictions; use of office, staff or employees of public office; restraint on use of public position to obtain private benefit; and negotiating for nongovernment employment.
In addition, the Office of Inspector General report found that the contract may have violated CNMI Procurement and Supply regulations, specifically on “ethics in public contracting.”
When the committee resumed its meeting at 2pm yesterday, they reviewed recorded testimony on articles related to a former attorney general's hosting of a delegate candidate campaign at the governor's house in violation of CNMI and U.S. laws and the governor's failure to remove him.
The meeting wrapped up at around 4:30pm, and will resume at 2pm today.
Sablan, in an interview after yesterday's meeting, said the committee will continue to review recorded testimony on Article 10, neglect of duty, this afternoon and is expected to vote on it before proceeding to other articles of impeachment.
Fitial can be impeached and convicted on any one of the 18 articles of felony, corruption, and neglect of duty.