The House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee has requested Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig to appear for a meeting today, Friday, to provide it information on, among other things, the amount of attorneys’ fees the witnesses incurred for appearing before the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee in its investigation into Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ expenditures of public funds and travels.
In her letter Tuesday to Atalig, Ways and Means Committee vice chair Corina L. Magofna (D-Saipan) asked Atalig to brief them at the 10am meeting in the House’s chamber about attorney’s fees contract amounts and payments made as of Dec. 31, 2021.
Most of the witnesses retained private lawyers as their counsel in the JGO hearings. The 0ffice of the Attorney General approved the hirings.
Magofna also requested Atalig to brief them about the distribution of $80 million the CNMI received under the American Rescue Plan Act, the annual fiscal report for fiscal year 2021 that is past due, the fiscal year 2022 first quarter expenditure report, and CARES Act expenditures report.
The lawmaker also asked Atalig to talk about the guidance for premium pay and retirees’ bonuses, reprogramming report for fiscal year 2022 as of Dec. 31, 2021, reporting on “travel bucks” for tourists as of Dec. 31, 2021, and other fiscal-related matters.
In response to Saipan Tribune’s inquiry about the request, Magofna said the financial report to the Legislature for fiscal year 2021 was due on Dec. 31, 2021, and is now almost three weeks late. She said Atalig had asked for an extension to Jan. 14, 2022, and has already missed his own proposed extended deadline.
Magofna said it is important that the committee receives a briefing on Torres’ reprogramming of funds status as of Dec. 31, 2021 to ensure that the governor is complying and adhering to the law.
She said it is also important to know whether Torres has exceeded his 25% reprogramming authority because any reprogramming of funds above that will require legislative approval.
With regards to the premium pay that was recently paid out before Christmas, the lawmaker said they continue to receive messages of complaints and concerns from constituents and taxpayers.
She said Atalig has promised to publish guidance for the premium pay bonuses, but that they have yet to see that guidance even though the bonuses have already been paid out.
“It is imperative and important that we get the guidelines and criteria on how these payouts were determined as far as who was entitled to receive it and how much,” Magofna said.
She said it appears that there may be some inequalities and unfair treatment going on, thus the need for the guidelines and criteria to help clarify the process that was taken.
Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Donald Manglona (Ind-Rota) said these financial reports inform the Legislature of the financial state the CNMI is in.
Manglona pointed out that, in understanding the revenues and expenditures, it allows the legislators to plan ahead, but also identify areas of concerns so they can address them.