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Monday, April 21, 2014

‘Victory for the people of CNMI’

Rep. Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan), the original force behind a taxpayers’ lawsuit against a $190.8-million sole-sourced power purchase agreement between former governor Benigno R. Fitial and Saipan Development LLC, said that yesterday’s court order finding the 25-year PPA void from the beginning is “a victory for the people of the Commonwealth.”

“This lawsuit has never been only to impeach Fitial but more importantly, to protect the interests of the CNMI people. The victory belongs to the people of the Commonwealth, not me, because I was only representing them,” Maratita told Saipan Tribune yesterday.

Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman issued yesterday a 26-page order finding that Fitial, as governor in 2012, did not have the authority to suspend Commonwealth Utilities Corp. procurement regulations and that the PPA that Fitial entered with Delaware-based SDLLC is void ab initio.

Maratita, who had been one of the lawmakers subjected to political harassment at the time the impeachment process against Fitial was underway, said she’s “very pleased” and “happy” about the court ruling, which she said would have subjected present and future generations to much costlier power rates.

The $190.8-million PPA was among the key issues comprising the articles of impeachment against Fitial, along with the temporary release of a prisoner to give him a massage at his private residence in the wee hours of the morning, and an award of a sole-source ARRA management contract, among other things.

Maratita said the sentiments of the people and the court ruling on the taxpayers’ lawsuit against the PPA “should serve as lesson to every government official” that entering into agreements on behalf of the people should be done in a transparent manner.

Along with then minority leader and now House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) and others, Maratita was one of those who voted “yes” to impeach Fitial for corruption, neglect of duty, and felony.

Fitial stepped down as governor days before the Senate was to start his impeachment trial, after the House successfully moved the impeachment process to the Senate. Fitial is the first governor in the CNMI or any U.S. territory to resign as a result of an impeachment process.

Acting Senate president Ray Yumul (Ind-Saipan), who joined Maratita as co-plaintiff in the taxpayers’ lawsuit against the PPA, separately said yesterday he’s “pleased” and “ecstatic” about the court ruling.

“There’s no question the PPA was a factor in the impeachment of Fitial and more importantly, the PPA, if it’s pursued, would do more harm than good to the CNMI and its people,” Yumul said.

Yumul, now Senate floor leader, also gives Maratita most of the credit “for pushing this issue forward.”

He said if it were not for Maratita’s perseverance, the CNMI might have been bound by a questionable sole-sourced power purchase agreement for 25 years.

“For years, I have been raising the concern about Fitial’s declaration of emergency for CUC. He’s been using as reasons for the emergency the following: government agencies’ inability to pay CUC, lack of a board of directors, lack of manpower for CUC, and renewable energy crisis. All of them are solvable. And why use renewable energy crisis when we didn’t have renewable energy in the first place? He was planning and conniving the whole time for a PPA, and it was diesel generation when we’re supposed to be leaning toward renewable energy,” Yumul said.

In yesterday’s ruling, Wiseman determined that applicable regulations were not followed in executing the power purchase agreement with SDLLC which, in turn, sued CUC in federal court over the voided PPA.

Fitial and then attorney general Edward T. Buckingham signed the PPA on Aug. 3, 2012. The power purchase agreement was kept secret, except for a few individuals in government, until the media got hold of a copy of the agreement while Fitial was off-island for a political event and after Buckingham fled the CNMI after he was served with a penal summons to appear in court.

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