A Senate panel is still pursuing the matter, but the ones it asked to investigate both the contract award and attorney general Edward Buckingham in relation to his advice to award the ARRA contract, recused themselves from the probe, including the NMI Bar Association and public auditor Michael Pai.
Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian), chairman of the Senate Committee on Executive Appointments and Government Investigations, briefly said yesterday the panel has yet to hear from Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert Naraja or the Judiciary whether they are still looking into the matter related to the AG and the ARRA contract award.
Cruz declined to further comment.
Fitial, in an interview at the Legislature yesterday afternoon, said OPA should instead “move on with something worth investigating.”
But when asked which ones are worth investigating, he said “no comment.”
Last year, the Senate asked OPA to probe further the ARRA contract award because the Inspector General report on the matter was not conclusive.
On Monday, Pai recused himself from investigating the matter, citing lingering perception of conflict of interest.
But Pai assigned OPA legal counsel George L. Hasselback to act on his stead “and have ultimate responsibility for the investigation, analysis, and prosecution of any wrongdoing that may be discovered as may be appropriate.”
When asked whether he’s concerned about OPA’s continued investigation, Fitial said, “I’m not concerned. I think they better move on with something better, something worth investigating.”
Fitial also questioned Pai’s decision.
“How can he recuse himself? He knows that particular case very well,” he said.
The governor said the public auditor wanted to be absolved.
“He is in a better position to make a decision, but not to recuse himself. Follow the same decision that the court has already rendered,” Fitial said when asked what he expected OPA to do.
Fitial later clarified that it’s not a court that made a decision, but the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“No not the court, but the (IG) investigation, did not prove anything. Because I told the inspector general who came out here, I said, ‘You know what? I want to make something very clear to you. If the attorney general tells me not to sign that contract, I will not sign’,” the governor said.
The AG gave a green light to sign the sole-source contract.
Fitial said he also asked the public auditor for his advice but didn’t say anything or raise any particular concern.
“I asked Mike (Pai) to draft me a letter because he understands the case better, but basically (I was) asking the public auditor to tell me if this is unethical,” Fitial said. No such letter came from OPA, he added.
Fitial, when asked what he wants OPA to do now, said, “Why are we wasting time on this issue when there’s nothing wrong with it?”
The Interior IG report said evidence suggests that the CNMI government’s $392,406 contract to IPS violated multiple CNMI ethics rules, including provisions against post-employment restrictions, use of office, staff, or employees of public office, restraint on use of public position to obtain private benefit, and negotiating for non-government employment.
The IG report said IPS was awarded the contract just five days after Ada resigned from government, which violates the regulatory one-year period.
But the Fitial administration said the IG report’s findings are not conclusive.
Requests for comments from individuals initially critical of the ARRA sole-source contract award were either declined or not responded to as of yesterday.
The CNMI has been awarded over $119 million in ARRA grants since 2009. But as of March 30, 2012, the CNMI has yet to draw down $28.79 million.