Atalig seeks Kumoi’s ouster • Sen. Guerrero shrugs off threat to expel him from committee membership

Posted on May 18 2000

Two Senate committees may kick out Sen. Ramon S. Guerrero as member in what appears to be yet another consequence of his decision to seek an audit of expenditures by his colleagues.

But the senator shrugged off the planned ouster as he warned members of the Senate that he will continue to be a “watchdog” in order for the public to find out how they are spending their tax dollars.

Sen. Ricardo S. Atalig, chair of the committees on Health, Education and Welfare as well as Judiciary, Government and Law, yesterday informed the upper house that he is “considering removing [Mr. Guerrero] effective immediately.”

In a memorandum to Senate President Paul A. Manglona, he said the ouster is based on grounds that the Saipan senator “is a minority member and does not demonstrate a desire to act constructively as a committee member.”

Mr. Atalig added: “The recent incidents give us reasons to doubt his willingness to work together to further address the concerns of the people of the Commonwealth.”

But Mr. Guerrero disputed those allegations, noting that he has been in his office everyday since his term began in January. He also cited inconsistency in the memo as he questioned why the chairman appointed him as member when they know he is a minority.

“I am assuming he doesn’t like what I’m doing because it will show that they are not doing what they are supposed to do on the expenditures,” he told in an interview.

On Monday, Mr. Guerrero, who is from the Reform Party, asked the Office of Public Auditor to investigate major expenditures incurred by the nine-member chamber to determine how taxpayers’ dollars are spent whether they are for public purposes.

Last month, he also aired his frustration over the limited number of sessions and committee meetings in the Senate which prompted him to move his office to a private building in Gualo Rai where he said he could best serve his constituents.

“My duty”

In the disclosure of the documents provided to him by Finance Sec. Lucy DLG. Nielsen under the Open Government Act, Mr. Guerrero pointed to purchases of construction materials made Mr. Atalig in January that he said were meant for public purposes.

“If the finance department is correct, if the good senator from Rota is concerned about the people of the Commonwealth, why did he use the JGL committee funds to purchase roofing tins, roofing nails and paints?” he asked. Mr. Atalig could not be reached for comment.

Despite his removal from the two committees, Mr. Guerrero reiterated his vow to pursue the issue on “public purpose” expenditures in a bid to protect the people’s money.

“They have to watch me, because I will be the watchdog of the taxpayers. They have to be careful on what they do starting today,” he said.

“Even if they ousted me from the committees, I am an elected senator. I have every right to attend any session and committee meetings they set up. They cannot chase me away,” added the senator.

Mr. Guerrero is also a member of the committees on Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications; Resources, Development of Programs; Fiscal Affairs; and Federal Relations and Independent Agencies.

He maintained it is up to the chairman of these respective committees whether to keep him as member, but added that booting him out will not stop him from protecting the taxpayers’ money.

“Not me”

In apparent retaliation for his expose, the Committee on Executive Appointments and Governmental Investigations Chair Sen. Joaquin G. Adriano has asked the public auditor for the status of a 1995 audit which ordered Mr. Guerrero to return over $250,000 in overpayment while he was still executive director of the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation.

While he conceded that it is Mr. Adriano’s right to do so, Mr. Guerrero emphasized the Tinian senator must explain to the taxpayers “what their money is being used that way.”

Colleagues who are retaliating against him now for what he has done, he said, should “attack” the Department of Finance, which has refused reimbursements for questionable expenditures that include purchases of fruits and flowers, restaurant bills, airfares, car leases, donations and cable subscription, among other things.

“I did not write that obligations. I did not write those figures. It is from the Department of Finance,” he explained. “They should not attack me, they should attack the [department] why these reimbursements have been refused.”

Mr. Guerrero’s request for audit came amid rows between Ms. Nielsen and members of the Legislature over interpretation of public purpose set out in the Constitution and amended by two recently enacted laws.

A new set of regulations drawn up by her departments has been opposed by lawmakers since it will require them to seek approval by the Speaker or the President on each expenditure — a policy contrary to their in-house rules that grant sole responsibility to the members over their respective legislative accounts.

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