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Friday, April 25, 2014

FIRST REPORT OF ITS KIND IN NMI HISTORY
Special panel to House: Impeach Fitial

For the first time in CNMI history, a special committee report was pre-filed yesterday recommending that the full House of Representatives impeach the governor for 18 allegations of corruption, neglect of duty, and felony, and move the process to the Senate for trial. Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, the first governor to be a subject of an introduced impeachment resolution, has been preparing a legal defense team.

By a vote of 5-0, the Special Investigating Committee on Impeachment adopted a 51-page committee report on House Resolution 18-2, which will be up for a full House vote on Monday at 9am.

One by one, special committee members led by chair Rep. Tony Sablan (IR-Saipan) signed off on the panel report at around 4:30pm yesterday in the House chamber.

A report of a similar nature didn’t get a chance to be completed and presented to the full House for a vote last year after the governor’s allies in the 17th House voted down the impeachment resolution. Voters later almost wiped out the governor’s candidates in the Nov. 6 elections, paving the way for mostly pro-impeachment candidates to win new House seats.

Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan), one of the committee members, said, “It has been a pretty long journey since the 17th Legislature.”

“But I’m happy to say that we now have a product to present to the full body, a product that was never given a chance during the last Legislature,” Dela Cruz said as the special committee wrapped up its work yesterday.

Besides Sablan and Dela Cruz, the other committee members are Reps. Ray Tebuteb (IR-Saipan), Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan), and Cris Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan).

Minority bloc members Reps. Felicidad Ogumoro (R-Saipan) and Teresita Santos (R-Rota) withdrew from the committee but the four-member minority bloc said it will issue its own report on the impeachment resolution.

Dela Cruz said each House member will be able to review the special committee report and decide on the merit of each article.

Sablan and Dela Cruz separately thanked the committee members, the House staffers and counsels for their work, House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan), the general public “for their patience” as well as the media.

“When we started this, we were under tremendous pressure to conduct the hearing and get to this point,” Sablan said.

The committee held its first official meeting on Jan. 24. They reviewed evidence, deliberated on each of the articles and voted on each of them, before drafting and finalizing their report.

Copies of the 51-page Special Committee Report 18-1 are now ready for review by all House members.

The report recommends adoption of House Resolution 18-2, House Draft 1. The impeachment resolution is co-sponsored by the speaker and 15 other members of the new House leadership.

The number of the resolution’s cosponsors is more than the minimum 14 “yes” votes in the 20-member House to move the impeachment process to the Senate.

The speaker said there is ample time to review the committee report, in time for Monday’s session.

Among the impeachment allegations relate to the unauthorized release of a federal inmate in January 2010 to massage the governor at his home, signing of a no-bid $190.8- million power purchase agreement and a no-bid almost $400,000 ARRA management contract, helping a former attorney general avoid a penal summons related to criminal charges, and failure to appoint key officials for Senate consideration, among other things.

Fitial can be impeached in the House and convicted in the Senate on only one of the 18 articles of corruption, neglect of duty, and felony.

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