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House JGO reopens probe into Torres’ expenses

Bautista says Babauta, other Democrats playing politics again
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The Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations of the CNMI House of the Representatives has reopened a probe into the expenditures of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and his wife, specifically expenses relating to his travels.

Toward this end, the committee has asked the Marianas Visitors Authority for copies of documents relating to Torres’ MVA-funded travels.

JGO committee chair Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) also asked the Office of Personnel Management to provide “unredacted” documents relating to new hires, promotions, and amendments to contracts of department heads.

“Please have the copies available for pick up no later than Tuesday, April 20, 2021,” said Babauta in her separate emails sent last Tuesday to the MVA and OPM officials. Saipan Tribune obtained a copy of the emails yesterday.

Babauta told Saipan Tribune yesterday that there will be more requests going out to different government agencies.

Press secretary Kevin Bautista said the administration welcomes all legitimate inquiries but the timeline of this inquiry is questionable and described the probe as “another blatant political attempt by the Democrats and their Guam news outlet to smear Torres and this administration.”

Bautista said a bipartisan special committee was already formed last year and transferred oversight to the Office of the Public Auditor, which is the appropriate agency to review and investigate such matters.

Bautista said the Office of the Governor and the Department of Finance cooperated fully in the past with last year’s Special Committee’s inquiries and hearings, taking time out to print documents for then-candidate Babauta and their party in response to their Open Government Act requests. He said the findings of the Special Committee’s draft report showed no finding of consequence.

“While there is a lot of good work being done by Gov. Torres, Lt. Gov. [Arnold] Palacios, the House minority, the Senate leadership, the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors, and the COVID-19 Task Force to keep people safe and rebuild the economy, Rep. Babauta and some of the Democrats are choosing to play politics once again,” Bautista said.

In her email to MVA managing director Priscilla M. Iakopo and MVA chief accountant Joanne Paraiso, Babauta asked them for unredacted, unaltered, and clear copies of any and all travel documents relating to Torres and first lady Diann Tudela Torres that were funded—either in part or in whole—by MVA from January 2015 until now.

Babauta requested the MVA officials to include all supporting documents such as travel authorizations, boarding passes, travel advances, receipts, trip reports, and reimbursements related to such travels.

She asked MVA officials to also email her a copy of MVA’s travel and reimbursement policies.

In a separate email to OPM officials, the lawmaker asked for documents and notifications of personnel actions relating to new hires, promotions, amendments to contracts with or without salary increases related to department chiefs and all other excepted service employment contracts from January 2019 until now.

The email was addressed to OPM director Frances Salas, Classification and Compensation chief Emma Peters, and Employment Development and Staffing chief Joseph Pangelinan.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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