By STANLEY T. MCGINNIS TORRES
Special to the Saipan Tribune
So how much is this research process likely to cost? Will a bunch of commissioners get rich off this deal? How will we know what is going on with this group as they work?
Within one month of beginning operations, the newly appointed members of the Second Political and Economic Status Commission must bring a proposed budget to the Legislature. The Legislature will apportion funds as available and/or try to work with the central government’s administration to co-fund the commission’s work. Some $50,000 can be advanced to the commission but the required budget must detail any use of these funds or any other requested funds seen as necessary to carry out the defined purposes of the group. All funding goes through the fully audited Finance Department, which will open a special account for the purpose so no monies are mingled with the general fund. All the commission’s spending must be audited by the public auditor when the commission is dissolved and a report made available within 90 days.
Public servants (elected officials) and CNMI government employees that serve on the commission will not receive pay at all. Others are to be paid per 1 CMC section 8247 (a), which means they can receive up to $60 for a full day’s meeting or up to $30 for a half day. They can be paid less if the commission decides so. In no case can anybody get paid more than $6,000 and even that much seems unlikely as they would have to meet 100 times in the year or so they are in operation. Commission members’ legitimate “extraordinary” expenses can be reimbursed if they get full commission approval and if they provide complete receipts. Travel should be limited with members from Tinian and Rota using televideo communications methods to attend meetings. Any actual travel can only be paid at prevailing Executive Branch rates and with commission approval. To be paid at all, the meeting must be open to the public and must have its minutes fully transcribed.
Speaking of open to the public, all public meetings are to be announced by local newspaper at least a week in advance so the public can attend and participate. All minutes and other documents are to be kept in the official Archives. Executive sessions can be held but minutes and documents even for those can be obtained via Open Government Act. All records can be made available to the public. A written record of any and all meetings must be kept.
When voting, a simple majority at a duly noticed meeting is necessary to carry a vote. A quorum is a majority of the members, meaning six members must be present to hold a vote or make a decision binding on the group.
With the possibility of improved revenues of millions, even hundreds of millions coming into the Northern Marianas over time as a result of potential renegotiations or a change in political or economic status, spending $50,000 (or even more) seems a more than reasonable research fee. Hey, it beats Uncle Sam spending $5 million bucks on studying the sex life of a frog.
In next week’s article, we will see exactly what duties and responsibilities the commission has to fulfill while in session, what the final results are to be, and what the Final Report is to contain. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments about this week’s article. 664-8903 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rep. Stanley T. McGinnis Torres is a member of the 17th Legislature.