Torres responds as minority makes public expense records
“It’s public record. …It’s open to everyone.”
Thus said Gov. Ralph DLG Torres on Monday, in response to the move of some opposition lawmakers to put online Torres’ spending from October 2014 to December 2019, following an Open Government Act Request with the Department of Finance.
“We do have [the Office of Public Auditor], we do have the [Attorney General’s] Office, and we’ve been working with what we need to do, and we’ll continue to do that,” said Torres
In return, the governor urged the minority bloc of the House of Representatives to “also allocate their energy and resources to bring us back, both economically and socially,” given that the CNMI is currently experiencing a pandemic.
The House minority scanned and sorted records of the governor’s expenditures, received through an OGA request they filed last December, and has made them all available for the public to review online.
The minority bloc submitted the OGA request to the Department of Finance on Dec. 10, 2019, seeking records of expenditures by the governor related to first-class travel, official representation, reimbursements, executive security services, and housing/utilities allowances.
At the House session last week, Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan) informed lawmakers of their move to make the records accessible to the public, and requested that the files be made available to any member of the Legislature or the public to inspect.
“We believe that these records should be available to all members of the Legislature, and the people we serve, for review and analysis,” Sablan said.
She also pointed out that Finance Secretary David Atalig has not fully complied with the OGA, noting “with concern” that there are records that they have yet to receive more than six months after they filed their initial OGA request.
“We are aware of certain records in Finance’s possession that have not been released, and certain records that have been redacted, without citation to any specific exemption in the OGA,” Sablan said. “Though much of our work has been disrupted by austerity measures and the COVID-19 government shutdown, the minority has nonetheless followed up with Secretary Atalig on the records we have yet to receive.”
The minority urged House Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao (R-Saipan) to direct the records they have received to the appropriate House standing committees, to start off a formal legislative investigation on the governor’s expenditures of public funds.
At the House session Monday, minority leader Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan) reiterated that the Legislature is a separate branch of government.
Responding to a critical comment by press secretary Kevin Bautista, Propst said they are not accusing nor attacking the governor, but are simply making available the governor’s expense report for the entire House to look into.
“To say that we’re being political, when we’ve asked, time and time again, to look at certain documents, it’s a slap in our face. This is not minority against the majority. We are a separate branch. …This is a time when we all need to do our jobs because we’re asked that,” he said. “An attack on the minority is also an attack on the leadership in the sense that we are a separate branch of government. We don’t bow, we don’t kowtow to the administration.”
The minority leader also said that they have introduced revenue-generating bills, adding that Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Ind-Saipan), and a few others, signed off on legislation to tax the casino.
“We are not neglecting our constituents, nor are we accusing or attacking the governor. In fact, we are willing to sit down with him and talk to him about some of the questions we have, anytime, anyplace,” he added.
House Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao (R-Saipan) has referred the records of the governor’s expenses to the Ways & Means and the Judiciary & Governmental Operations committees for review.
Follow-ups on the documents that the Department of Finance have yet to release are also in the works.
“For the record, we’re all members of the Legislature. We never say anything about majority or minority,” Attao added.
The minority will be submitting a report of their analysis and recommendations to the House within the coming weeks.
“The people of the Marianas deserve to know whether and how there have been abuses of public funds or violations of public policies or laws by the governor or by any government official. And we in the Legislature have an obligation to provide the accountability and checks and balances that our people demand,” Sablan said.