The bickering between Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and the Senate continues more than a week after senators killed yet again a bill legalizing casino gaming on Saipan, with the governor blaming Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) for stalling progress.
Fitial issued a statement yesterday from Guam titled, “Manglona is real reason for stalled progress.”
Manglona said it is the governor who is stalling progress for not having a plan to help prolong the NMI Retirement Fund’s lifespan and for giving inaccurate information to foreign investors on the issue of casino on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
“It is time for the governor to stop talking and start acting,” Manglona said.
Fitial blamed Manglona for “political posturing and misleading the people of the CNMI.”
Manglona said the governor must have been talking about himself when he said this.
The governor said every time Manglona is referred to as the longest serving senator, “we are reminded why our struggles cannot be solved.”
“How can Manglona say that he is working to address our financial challenges, and in the same breath, lead the charge to defeat the casino bill—a measure that would have provided much needed relief to our fiscal impediments?” said Fitial, who is in Guam for the Micronesian Chief Executives Summit.
Fitial said he is appalled at Manglona’s claims that the Fund’s problems are a result of inaction by the administration and the lower house.
“Who is he kidding? It is the Senate that refused to act on critical Fund-related bills passed by the lower house. These were measures that were introduced following discussions with the Fund on possible ways to protect and preserve the life of the Fund,” he said.
The Senate president said it is obvious that the governor is not aware of what’s really happening with the Fund.
Manglona reiterated that the Senate has come up with bills, initiatives, and recommendations to prolong the pension agency’s lifespan, but they were either ignored or rejected by the House, which he described yesterday as “controlled” by the administration.
Rep. Ray Basa (Cov-Saipan) denied this and said there’s nothing wrong with working with the Executive Branch to help improve the economy and the lives of the people.
“The Senate president is using the Retirement Fund saga for his re-election,” said Basa, who is also seeking re-election.
Manglona said senators passed Senate Legislative Initiative 17-13, which transfers management decisions of public land golf course leases to the Fund, and SLI 17-14, which transfers funds from the Marianas Public Land Trust to the Fund, but the House has been sitting on them.
He said the House has also ignored SLI 17-15, which sets aside 25 percent of government revenue to pay the government’s employer contribution to the Fund, as well as Senate Bill 17-99, which transfers the administrative functions of the Government Life and Health Insurance Program from the Retirement Fund to the Department of Finance.
Fitial, in an interview on Saturday, described Rota and Tinian lawmakers as “stupid” for rejecting yet again a House bill legalizing casino gaming on Saipan. Senators said the governor should be respectful and civil.
The governor, in a statement yesterday, said, “These senators know that I was referring to them and not the good people of the islands of Tinian and Rota.”
“It’s an extreme pity that these senators are so far consumed by the need to enrich themselves and their special interests that they turn a blind eye on improving the overall welfare of the people of the Commonwealth,” the governor added.
Fitial also said, “It is Senator Manglona and his disciple senators that are dividing our people.”
“I have held full leadership summits with our Legislature so we can help our people, but all the solutions we agree upon can never materialize because the Senate president makes every effort to block progress if his self-interests are not included. The Saipan casino measure would have provided additional resources for the people of Tinian and Rota, but their senators don’t want relief for the people, they only want their subsistence allowance,” Fitial said.[B]On Rota, Tinian casinos[/B]
The governor said when Rota needed assistance to jumpstart its casino industry, he approved Saipan Local Law 16-4 which provided a loan from the Saipan Legislative Delegation to the Rota Casino Gaming Commission.
“As a result of this local law that I approved for the people of Rota, the commission loaned some $290,000 from Saipan. What has happened since? A failed casino operation and the inability to pay back the funds they loaned. So what has Manglona done to help? Nothing at all,” Fitial said.
Manglona said Fitial misled some investors from China wanting to invest on Rota and Tinian by telling them that casinos are about to be legalized on Saipan, so these investors held off plans to set up shop on the two islands.
The Senate twice rejected a House bill to legalize Saipan casinos. Saipan voters also twice rejected a similar question.
But Rep. Froilan Tenorio, Rep. Ray Basa (Cov-Saipan) and Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan) are all working on a popular initiative on Saipan casinos to place the question before voters in the Nov. 6 midterm election.
The administration also issued a press release on Wednesday night regarding senators’ monthly subsistence allowance. Senators demanded yesterday the release of the copy of the actual legal opinion and not a press release.
The Office of the Attorney General, in that press release, said it has determined that the Department of Finance has the responsibility to control expenditures to prevent the waste of public funds.
Manglona said this has been the case ever since but questioned the timing of the administration’s release of the statement.