Representative Mariano Taitano (IR-Saipan)’s challenge to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.’s plans for the vacant property north of the hospital is heading back to court after a reported transfer of the property from CHC back to its original owner, the Department of Public Lands, failed to materialize.
Taitano brought a taxpayer action in Superior Court last year challenging DPL’s initial transfer of the property to CHC, and CHC’s plan to lease part of the property to a Guam landscaping company for the construction of a new federal courthouse.
At a scheduled hearing in November of last year, however, CHC advised the court that the property would be transferred from CHC back to the DPL. It was also reported in the press that a consensus had been reached among CHC, DPL, Gov. Eloy S. Inos and representatives of the Marianas Public Land Trust that the land would be deeded back to the government. Taitano’s action was put on hold so that the issues raised in his case could be re-evaluated after the transfer.
It has emerged, however, that the planned re-transfer never actually took place, and that the property has remained in the possession of CHC. Taitano has therefore now asked the court to re-activate the case, and the court has set a new hearing on pending motions for Sept. 30.
Taitano initially filed the case as a CNMI taxpayer, under the section of the CNMI Constitution that permits a taxpayer to sue a government agency for a breach of its fiduciary duties to the people. He charged both the Department of Public Lands and the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. with breaching their duties.
CHC, he contends, should not have granted an option to lease out the property without a public solicitation, an appraisal of the value of the property, and clear terms as to the size and location of the portion of the property subject to the lease, and the price to be paid for it. Instead, CHC just granted Landscape Management Systems, Inc., an option to lease part of the property in the event it is awarded the federal courthouse contract, without specifying any of those terms.
Furthermore, Taitano argues, DPL should not have transferred the property to CHC in the first place, since CHC has no experience or expertise in leasing out land for development.
“This is a valuable piece of land at a prime location,” said Taitano, “and there is not so much of that to go around. We need to be careful what we do with it.” (PR)