Concerns about possible conflict of interest and double dipping could mar—or at least prolong—Saipan lawmakers’ confirmation of Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ three appointees to the Commonwealth Casino Commission. All three happen to be government retirees and are supposed to be compensated $40,000 on the first year of being confirmed commissioners and then $20 an hour for official meetings in succeeding years.
The 21-member Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation is tasked to confirm or reject the governor’s appointees to the Casino Commission. Rota and Tinian lawmakers, meanwhile, are supposed to confirm or reject their respective mayor’s nominees.
SNILD delegation chair Rep. Ray Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan) confirmed yesterday that members continue to find “gray” areas in the Saipan casino laws that they want clarification first “even before scheduling public hearings” on the nominees.
Inos appointed to the commission former senator Maria Frica T. Pangelinan, businessman David C. Sablan, and former Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. chief executive officer Alvaro A. Santos.
Because all three are retirees, Tebuteb said the delegation wants to clarify whether they would be illegally double-dipping once they get compensated for Casino Commission work, and whether they would find themselves conflicted because a big chunk of casino-related fees would fund 25 percent of retirees’ pension.
Moreover, some delegation members want to clarify whether the Saipan casino law and the law that amended it give the Lottery Commission the authority to use portions of the $2 million in nonrefundable application fee that casino applicants Best Sunshine International Ltd. and Marianas Stars Entertainment Inc. paid.
Lottery Commission chair Sixto Igisomar said the contracts with their casino investigators and gaming consultants is “no more than $500,000,” and this came from the $2 million application fees. The rest is supposed to be for the operation of the Casino Commission.
The Lottery Commission is the one that decides whether to grant—and to whom—an exclusive casino license on Saipan. The Casino Commission is the regulatory body, and will promulgate rules and regulations governing the casino industry on Saipan.
“Between a $2 billion investment and the government’s $134 million proposed budget for 2015, we really have to be meticulous, impartial in the process of confirming or not the appointees to the Casino Commission,” Tebuteb told Saipan Tribune yesterday.
He also said he will be sending as early as today a letter addressed to the Settlement Trust’s trustee, attorney Joyce C.H. Tang of Civille and Tang PLLC, to help seek clarification as to the benefit status of Settlement Fund members who are also members of CNMI boards or commissions.
Some delegation members contend that Settlement Class members are no longer members of the NMI Retirement Fund, and therefore no longer have obligations or duties to the NMI Retirement Fund.
Moreover, some said even if reemployment and double dipping applied, serving as a member of any board or commission—in this case the Casino Commission—is “not” being “employed by the Commonwealth.” They specifically cited that there’s no notification of personnel action made with respect to board and commission members.
A notice of personnel action is a document that places the person on the government payroll and documents their status as a CNMI government employee.
Some lawmakers pointed out that board and commission members receive compensation but they are not classified as wages or salary.
Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan), one of the members of the Ad-Hoc Committee that will be reviewing the Casino Commission appointments, said yesterday that in the course of reviewing or charting the confirmation process, members have been finding some possible flaws in the Saipan casino laws.
Public Law 18-38 authorized casino gaming on Saipan. This was amended by Public Law 18-43.
Tebuteb, as chairman of the Saipan legislative delegation, convened the officers and committee chairmen of the delegation on Wednesday afternoon to start discussing the confirmation process.
“There are at least 10 members of the ad-hoc committee—the three officers and the seven committee chairmen. But even before we could set public hearings on the nominees, we have to get answers first to the questions and gray areas that members have been finding,” Tebuteb said.
Rota, Tinian nominees
Rota Mayor Melchor Mendiola has nominated Department of Commerce-Rota resident director Eusebio Hocog to serve on the Commonwealth Casino Commission. The Rota delegation has yet to schedule a public hearing on the nomination.
Tinian lawmakers, meanwhile, have yet to receive from Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz a nominee to the Lottery Commission as of yesterday. In the CNMI, the only operating casino is on Tinian—the Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino.
Rep. Trenton Conner (Ind-Tinian) said last night that names have been mentioned but the Tinian leadership is still trying to identify someone who is “more than capable” of doing the job.