Homeland Security, GAR grilled on COVID-19 vendor contracts

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In a back-to-back session yesterday, members of the House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding grilled officials handling COVID-19 expenditures on issues concerning vendor contracts, particularly the choice of companies that are allegedly Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ “biggest campaign contributors.”

Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management special assistant Gerald J. Deleon Guerrero and Public Assistance Office Governor’s authorized representative Patrick C. Guerrero were both grilled by Rep. Tina Sablan (D-Saipan) if they are aware that a number of sole-sourced contracts contributed to Torres’ campaign.

Sablan, in particular, mentioned Medpharm Group of Companies, International Royal, E-Land Group, and TanHoldings. Saipan Tribune is an affiliate of the latter.

Deleon Guerrero answered with several “no’s,” while Guerrero said he does not know who contributes to the governor’s campaign.

“What I am hearing is that this [Federal Emergency Management Agency]-approved Incident Command System for procurement is being fast-tracked or bypassed for some, but not all contracts,” Sablan added.

ICS is FEMA’s management system. “Some of the biggest contracts that have bypassed this process have been awarded to political supporters, campaign contributors, family connections, what appears to be Cabinet members with interest in business, favoring some business with political connections over others,” she added.

Bypassed?

Lawmakers also questioned the $2.5-million contract granted to clothing retailer International Royal dba Bics in Guam, that “somehow found out” about the supplies needed by the CNMI for PPEs, when local distributors were not even aware of the need at that time.

Deleon Guerrero said he does not know Royal Bics and is not sure what kind of business they do, but that the COVID-19 Task Force had reached out to company and it supplied them with the things they asked for. “Nobody else could do it in a short amount of time,” Guerrero said, referring to him signing on the Bics contract, adding that “someone” has already told him that the company has been providing the same products in Guam, and given the urgency of the need, they “gave them a shot.”

The governor’s authorized representative, however, said that he is not involved in the negotiations of the contracts but was more involved in the logistics aspect, particularly in trying to get the supplies to the CNMI.

When asked who is responsible for the negotiations, he answered, “Quite frankly, it’s the operation of Homeland Security & Emergency Management. That’s their job to go out and procure services or get resources, respond to the emergency, so they would be responsible for doing it.”

The investigation of the House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding will continue today at 10am, with the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Finance on the panel, and at 2pm with the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.

Iva Maurin | Author
Iva Maurin is a communications specialist with environment and community outreach experience in the Philippines and in California. She has a background in graphic arts and is the Saipan Tribune’s community and environment reporter. Contact her at iva_maurin@saipantribune.com

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