‘Mariana Resort deserves fair opportunity to renew lease in 4 years’
Gov. Eloy S. Inos said yesterday it is “far too premature” to say whether Public Auditor Michael Pai will be reappointed or replaced, even as Pai’s term expires in less than a month. The Inos administration also says the governor is “doing fine” amid concerns about his health, and asks individuals who believe they have evidence of corruption related to the exclusive Saipan casino legislation to come forward.
Pai earlier told Saipan Tribune that the Office of the Public Auditor has not received any formal request to investigate elected officials who went on investor-paid trips to Hong Kong, Macau, and Singapore and later pursued passing a Saipan casino bill.
The governor also said that answering the question of whether he will consider granting a pardon to former governor Benigno R. Fitial if the latter is convicted of corruption charges “could unduly influence the legal process currently underway.”
“I have a deep respect for our judicial system and am confident that all parties involved will have ample opportunity to present their case. There will be an appropriate time to address this issue but that time will not come until the judicial process is completed,” Inos told Saipan Tribune.
Fitial resigned on Feb. 20, 2013, amid impeachment proceedings over charges of corruption, neglect of duty and felony. Inos, as then lieutenant governor, became governor that same day. A corruption case against Fitial remains pending.
Pai’s six-year term as CNMI public auditor ends on Oct. 26, just a few days before the Nov. 4 general elections. A Fitial appointee, Pai has had meetings with Inos regarding his term as public auditor and matters related to OPA.
“Mike and I have had discussions regarding this matter and he is fully aware that the formal review process is underway. It is far too premature for me or for anyone in this administration to comment on what potentially may or may not happen,” the governor said.
Inos said this process has several factors to be considered, including past and ongoing auditor peer reviews and required financial audit of the agency.
The governor said that once the process is completed, a report will be presented to him and at that point, he will make a decision based on the results.
“I take very seriously the rule of our Constitution and the power it grants the Office of the Governor—one of which is the ability to appoint, reappoint all agency heads. I would also urge people to allow for the process to be completed as it is unfair to both Mike and this administration for his non-elected employment to be debated in the public eye,” Inos added.
Pai said he’s “not at liberty to comment on the meeting with the governor.”
The governor has been receiving dialysis treatment for his diabetes thrice a week, drawing concerns from members of the community.
Inos’ political opponents have also been making this an issue against him in the Nov. 4 general elections.
This is Inos’ first time to seek election as governor. Besides Inos of the Republican Party, the other gubernatorial candidates are former governor Juan N. Babauta, an independent; former speaker Heinz S. Hofschneider, also an independent; and former Commonwealth Ports Authority executive director Edward “Tofila” Deleon Guerrero.
Inos’ predecessor, Fitial, was also receiving medical treatment while in office. Fitial, who underwent surgery to correct spinal stenosis, was at times on a wheelchair but continued to govern and managed to get re-elected.
Acting press secretary Ivan Blanco said yesterday that the administration “appreciates the thoughts and concern from the people regarding the governor’s health.”
“Please rest assured that the governor is doing fine. He is adhering to a strict healthy diet regimen,” he said.
Blanco said what is more pressing is the alarming rate of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, which is not only affecting the adult population “but has managed to creep upon the innocence of our children.”
“The governor has firsthand experience of this affliction, and has instituted and supported programs such as ‘Let’s Move Marianas,’ ‘Buy Local, Eat Healthy,’ among other health programs in schools and in the community. We continue to encourage everyone to exercise, eat healthy, and teach these values to our children,” Blanco said.
A bill allowing an exclusive casino license for Saipan passed both the House and Senate early this year without public hearings and committee report, despite years of resistance from voters and lawmakers themselves.
The manner in which the latest casino bill passed the Legislature and signed into law has been raising allegations of corruption in one form or another.
To date, no local agency, including OPA, has looked into these allegations. There are unsubstantiated claims that a lawmaker or lawmakers received as much as half a million dollars in exchange for supporting casino legislation.
The administration reiterated yesterday that “if someone has evidence that one of their elected officials was the recipient of illegal funds, then they need to present that evidence immediately.”
“The proper authorities will determine whether such allegation warrants further investigation. I fully support the peoples’ right to support or oppose any issue but when you have individuals that make accusations without proof, it is slander and is seriously unfair to the hardworking people of our Commonwealth who worked so hard to identify and enact the 25 percent retiree benefits and interests payment solutions. I strongly believe that should any of the allegations become something real, the full extent of the law should weigh down on the offenders,” Inos said.
House Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz (Ind-Saipan) said he’s not aware of allegations that money changed hands in the process of pursuing a Saipan casino bill but he said he “wouldn’t be surprised if such occurred.” Dela Cruz consistently voted against casino bills on Saipan.
Best Sunshine International Ltd., whose parent firm is based in Hong Kong, was granted a license to exclusively develop an integrated casino resort on Saipan. While the minimum required investment by law is $2 billion, Best Sunshine committed to invest $3.14 billion and as of last week, that commitment increased to $7.1 billion.
But Best Sunshine has been having difficulty securing land for its integrated casino resort.
The governor said he is not aware that Best Sunshine is asking for adjustments on the agreed upon timeline.
“Until such time a request is submitted to the Lottery Commission, we will continue to honor the agreement,” he said.
DPL offered Best Sunshine the area south of Mariana Resort & Spa for phase 1 of its integrated casino resort project. Best Sunshine has been eyeing the current location of Mariana Resort, whose lease expires in 2018.
When asked whether Best Sunshine will be offered the current Mariana Resort location for the next phases of its project, the governor said “Marianas Resort deserves a fair opportunity to renew their lease in four years.”
“They have been a productive and valuable member of our Commonwealth community and again, having a debate on an issue that is four years away is not helpful to the process. We will continue to work with them just like we have been for the last 40 years,” said the governor, who turned 65 on Friday.