Acting governor Jude U. Hofschneider administered the oath of office Friday afternoon to two Senate-confirmed appointees to the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. board of directors, joining a third automatic member to constitute a needed quorum that would officially revive the critical board, nine years since the last one was abolished.
Hofschneider swore in David J. Sablan Jr. and Adelina Roberto as members of the CUC board, in the presence of their families, friends, CUC executive director Alan Fletcher, members of the House Committee on Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications led by Rep. Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) and other government officials on Capital Hill.
Sablan, a former chairman of the Guam Power Authority board, said the priority should be restoring peoples’ confidence in CUC, among other things. From there, he said, all the other pressing issues will be addressed, including further improving utility efficiency so that savings will be realized and passed on to consumers; meaning lower utility rates.
Roberto and Sablan will be joining Diego M. Songao who, pursuant to law, becomes automatic CUC board member as chairman of the Commonwealth Development Authority board of directors.
Hofschneider said he’s consulting with the Office of the Attorney General on whether Songao also needs to be sworn in as CUC board member before the board can convene to organize.
Just the same, Hofschneider said it is welcome news that the CUC board is revived, with qualified and dedicated people sitting on it. He and other officials on Friday said the last time CUC had a board of directors was in 2005.
The acting governor said based on law, there should be five CUC board members and at least three to constitute a quorum. The higher threshold for the CUC board membership, he said, pertains only during the transition period.
He thanked Sablan and Roberto for accepting the appointment, knowing too well that a CUC board membership is challenging.
Sablan himself was chosen by the Inos administration for his background in making policy decisions in running a utility firm from 1987 to 1991, including when he was GPA board chairman during what Sablan described as “one of the worst times in the history of GPA” when energy demand was exceeding capacity.
“In 1990-1991, we had a one-year load-shedding issue, and we were the most hated utility on the entire island but notwithstanding, we stayed the course. The staff and board and all the vendors we worked with stayed the course to change that. Now, the word load-shedding is not even in the terminology of the people of Guam because everybody was focused on making sure that we corrected the problem, which was to have enough reserve capacity. We did that and we developed a 20-year resource plan so the engineers have at least a bible to work with,” Sablan said.
Sablan, the state chair for the Guam-CNMI Committee of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve or ESGR, said as a confirmed and sworn-in member of the CUC board, he would like to look at some of the programs instituted at GPA to help CUC.
GPA is 10 times larger than CUC, he pointed out.
During a Senate public hearing on his appointment, Sablan was asked about his priority if he gets confirmed, to which he said it should be restoring public confidence in CUC.
He said when he asked around about what people think about CUC, the response is “not very positive.”
“And yet these are our customers. And if your customers don’t like your store and still shop there, you probably realize they’re doing it out of a matter of necessity [and] not because they want to help you or work with you or support your business. We need to change that attitude I think,” he said, adding that other priorities include further improving efficiency, looking at finances, looking for ways to save costs without compromising quality of service, personnel matters, and looking at renewable energy sources.
Roberto, for her part, also thanked Gov. Eloy S. Inos and Hofschneider for appointing her and the Senate for confirming her appointment to the CUC board.
“We got a lot of work ahead of us,” said Roberto, whose Senate confirmation hinged on her resignation from the NMI Retirement Fund board of trustees.
Commerce Secretary Sixto Igisomar, who was at the swearing-in ceremony, suggested at least one other appointee as soon as possible because CDA board chair Songao, as automatic CUC board member, would “protect CDA interests” and not CUC interests once CDA-CUC issues are being tackled.
“Hopefully we have at least one board member…to avoid conflict,” he added.
As of yesterday, Hofschneider has yet to appoint another individual to serve on the CUC board but he said one will be named this week.
CUC’s Fletcher thanked the Inos administration for reviving the CUC board, so that CUC would again “operate with citizen input on policy directions,” given that the corporation affects everyone’s lives in the CNMI on a daily basis.
He said the utilities he worked with in the U.S. mainland all operated with a board of directors, who provide “citizen input, that policy direction.”
Fletcher said the board will pave the way eventually for the lifting of the emergency declaration for CUC.
He added that since 2010, CUC has been on triage and has been trying to correct a lot of past deficiencies.
Rep. Roman Benavente (Ind-Saipan), a member of the House PUTC panel, told Fletcher at the ceremony that he’s “in good hands,” referring to Sablan and Roberto serving on the CUC board.
Other lawmakers including House PUTC chair Deleon Guerrero and member Rep. Christopher Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan) also welcomed the CUC board’s revival.
“Hopefully, down the road, we’ll see a rate relief,” said Deleon Guerrero. “We’re on the right direction.”
The Inos administration, like its predecessors, has been extending many of the provisions of an executive order declaring a state of emergency for CUC.
The continuing CUC emergency declaration cites the continued need to employ skilled technical foreign workers in the absence of qualified U.S. citizen workers, and a lack of a functioning CUC board.
The CUC emergency declaration also allows the governor to reprogram funds, and suspend procurement laws or rules to address the CUC emergency.
CUC is still owed some $18 million by the Public School System and the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. in unpaid utility billings. Millions more are owed by residential customers of CUC.