Babauta: We are not trying to stop the BOOST Program
Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan), who chairs the House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations, assured yesterday that they are not trying to stop in any way the Torres administration’s Building Optimism, Opportunities, and Stability Together, or BOOST Program.
“There is a common misconception out there. And we are not trying to do that. There is no intention to do so,” said Babauta during a House session.
She disclosed that she has received numerous calls, messages, and emails regarding not only from the BOOST applicants, but the community at large regarding their concerns about the program and the anxiety they’re reportedly creating.
The House’s JGO Committee and the Ways and Means Committee have been issuing subpoenas to compel some entities and persons to produce and testify related to the BOOST Program.
The two committees will hold a joint meeting tomorrow, Friday, in their bid to find out, among other things, who have been awarded funds under the program and those who have been denied, or are still awaiting disposition.
House Vice Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (Ind-Saipan) recently stated that he is concerned that many of those who have applied for BOOST funding may not be aware of the potential detrimental effects this funding may have on the recipients.
Babauta said yesterday that there is no attempt to stop the BOOST Program by her committee and the Ways and Means Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota). Babauta said what they are merely trying to do is seek answers that no one in the Torres administration is willing to provide them without being compelled to do so.
The JGO chair said the issue before the committees is that on Nov. 15, 2022, they wrote to Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig and Commerce Secretary Edward M. Deleon Guerrero, the Office of the Governor, and Bank of Saipan, seeking answers as to what the program’s process is and procedures. She said they also inquired what policies are in place, the criteria, and the amounts that have been awarded.
Babauta said the recipients of those letters have failed to respond or communicate with either committee so they sent a follow-up email after missing the first deadline to produce the requested documents.
She said when they also missed the second deadline, it was only then that the committees were compelled jointly to subpoena Atalig, Deleon Guerrero, chief of staff to the governor William Castro, BOS, and Bank of Guam.
“And at this time, we are still awaiting documents from the entities that we have issued subpoenas to,” said Babauta, adding that it’s only the BOG that has responded to their subpoena.
She said Atalig, Castro, and BOS have asked to be given more time. She said they obliged and gave a few more days of extension in the spirit of cooperation and accommodation.
She said Deleon Guerrero was only served with a subpoena this past Tuesday because they can’t find him and that it was also a long Thanksgiving weekend last week. Babauta said they gave Deleon Guerrero until Tuesday next week to provide documents.
“After we receive the documents from these entities we will then decide as a joint committee how to move forward with the BOOST Program and the documents that we have received,” she said.
The JGO chair said they are simply trying to get answers for the people who have applied for funding and others who may also have questions.
“I’m currently meeting with several of the applicants at this time. They’ve requested some of my time, and I willingly do so to gather information,” Babauta said.
She said the joint committees are trying to just gather information so they can put it out there in the public.
“There is nothing in the website for the BOOST Program that alludes to any type of policy or procedure or who qualifies for how much. We’ve been hearing disparity in the awards of these funds,” she added.
The BOOST Program is a project of the Office of the Governor and the Department of Commerce that aims to provide financial assistance to CNMI businesses and non-profit organizations.
The BOS is the administrator of the program.