Were Cabinet members paid beyond 16 hours for COVID-19 work? That’s what Rep. Tina Sablan (D-Saipan) would like to find out more straight from Finance Secretary David Atalig.
Sablan, who is a member of the Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding at the House of Representatives, which met yesterday, now wants to bring the Finance secretary back to the House to clarify on record and under oath.
Atalig earlier told the committee that Cabinet members were only paid straight time. At a hearing last May 13, he said that Cabinet members who had worked “many, many hours” were only paid 16 hours at 1.0, and using the CARES Act funding. Basically, he explained, instead of getting exempt from austerity, the CARES Act provided the funding and approval for their reassignment to their duties, for the 16 hours above the 64 hours at 1.0.
At the meeting, Atalig also clarified that in a disaster, if Cabinet members or any directors are approved, with a Category B form, and they are providing hours in the emergency being outside of their current duties, then they are qualified to get overtime.
“However, my office has not paid them, anyone outside of those front-line workers, and lower level directors and managers, for overtime,” he had said.
Fast forward to over a month, at the committee meeting yesterday, Sablan said, “The secretary of Finance very clearly stated that Cabinet members were not getting paid at that time, and that they were only getting paid, basically having their salaries restored for the 80 hours. So only up to 16 hours straight time that they were getting paid for their COVID-related work out of the CARES Act funding.”
“But,” she added, “that really doesn’t seem to be the case with most of the Cabinet members who received some sort of COVID pay as well in excess of 16 hours.”
In a later interview with Saipan Tribune, Sablan said that they have seen documents of Cabinet members submitting over 100 hours a pay period for COVID-19. This, on top of the regular pay records that they have yet to receive from the Department of Finance.
The special committee is currently holding an oversight on all contracts and government employee payments related to the COVID-19 operations, and has been reviewing documents to help in their investigation.
Aside from overtime payments, the special committee also wants to get further clarifications on how contracts under COVID-19 were approved. Rep. Ralph Yumul (R-Saipan), who chairs the committee, noted that there are companies in Guam that have received contracts, which could have been awarded to companies in the CNMI.
The special committee is setting up an oversight public hearing on July 20, Monday, where they expect Atalig to attend, along with the Public Affairs Office, the governor’s authorized representative, and the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., among others.