‘$1.5M to $2M left of $17M BOOST Program, but over $300M collectively requested’


This screengrab from the CNMI Legislature’s video shows Bank of Saipan president John Arroyo testifying yesterday before the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee and Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee regarding the Torres administration’s BOOST Program. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

Bank of Saipan president John Arroyo disclosed yesterday that of the $17 million appropriated to the Torres administration’s Building Optimism, Opportunity and Stability Together, or BOOST Program, there is only $1.5 million to $2 million left, but there are still thousands of BOOST applicants left.

After Office of the Governor chief of staff William “Wil” Castro completed his testimony yesterday, it was Arroyo’s turn on the hot seat and he disclosed that the bulk of the $17 million appropriated to the BOOST Program has already been distributed to over 200 applicants.

In response to a point raised by Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan), Arroyo agreed that it is simply not possible to award all of the thousands of applicants who have collectively requested over $300 million.

“I know that at some point in time, when the funds run dry, then I would get a notification from them saying okay, so these applications are declined, let’s provide notification to these individuals that their application was denied,” the BOS president said.

He said notices of denial will be going out, but they’re trying to figure out in what mechanisms would be economically feasible and effective.

Arroyo also testified on Bank of Saipan’s role as the BOOST administrator, how the bank got selected for that job, among other things.

He said of the $17 million, the bank got 2%, or $340,000, for its banking services.

Arroyo will resume his testimony today, Tuesday, at 10am.

‘Stop BOOST checks’

Soon after Castro completed his testimony yesterday, Rep. Joel Camacho (Ind-Saipan) recommended to the Ways and Means Committee and the Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee of the House of Representatives to ask the review panel of the BOOST Program to put on hold any further releases of BOOST checks.

After Castro was excused from the meeting yesterday, Camacho said he heard that the BOOST review panel released another batch of BOOST checks Friday.

“I think we need to put a stop to that,” Camacho said, adding that it’s not that he is against small businesses. He said there are many deserving small businesses that applied and have gotten a fraction of what they’ve asked for. He said the amounts are very reasonable compared to some individuals that got over $100,000.

Camacho said the transition of the new administration will be taking place in a few weeks and there are so many uncertainties, with even just a simple clear number of how much American Rescue Plan Act is left.

“We cannot even get that information. That’s straight information,” he said.

Castro started his testimony Friday and resumed his testimony yesterday. He completed his testimony yesterday, but Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota) told him that the committees may call him again.

A plethora of lacks

Rep. Leila F. Staffler (D-Saipan) said the things that stand out to her is the general lack: “lack of transparency, lack of due diligence, lack of organization and SOPs, lack of planning, with so many last-minute decisions being communicated.”

She said she has seen multiple conflicts of interests.

Rep. Vicente Camacho (D-Saipan) said he was very disappointed with Castro, knowing that he is a Harvard graduate, a former Guam senator, and the current chief of staff for this administration, and that he (Camacho) can’t believe that Castro can’t recall anything within the past year.

JGO chair Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) said what they have seen and heard since last Friday and this morning from Castro merely scratches the surface.

Babauta said that, throughout his testimony, Castro kept repeating the governor has the final say. “And I will quote: ‘At the end of the day, the buck stops with him.’ And he is held liable in his capacity as the chief executive and the only sole authority to expend these funds on behalf of the people,” said Babauta, referring to Torres.

Rep. Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan) said he has never seen a more biased grant.

“I don’t even know if you can call this really grant, gifts, or whatever you want to call it. Free money, cash grab may be better suited for it,” Propst said.

Manglona said he feels that they are further from the truth in the wake of Castro’s testimony.

“What we’re trying to do here is better understand the BOOST Program, how it is administered, who’s in charge of reviewing the applications, who approves these applications,” Manglona said.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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