Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) has asked Attorney General Edward Manibusan to join the Office of the Public Auditor in mandating the Finance secretary to initiate collection efforts to recover $8 million in alleged unauthorized overtime payments for appointed exempted service employees during Super Typhoon Yutu in 2018.
“I look forward [to] the prompt resolution of this matter,” Babauta told Manibusan in a letter dated May 30, 2021, a copy of which was obtained by Saipan Tribune over the weekend.
The lawmaker said she read the AG’s opinion written to the public auditor on Jan. 13, 2020, in which Manibusan concluded that, “As to the extra payment for typhoon emergency work, Cabinet members are not covered under any [of the foregoing] regulations.”
Babauta said Manibusan recommended in the opinion for the public auditor to review the payroll records of the emergency work compensation to ensure that government employees are paid according to law.
She said that, based on Manibusan’s opinion and recommendation, she is requesting that the collection efforts be started as soon as possible.
The lawmaker said more than one year has passed and she is not aware of any action that had been taken to recoup the unauthorized payments.
Babauta said she is pursuing this matter because Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig has openly stated in a meeting with members of House of the Representatives last Feb. 23 that $8 million of personnel cost was deemed non-reimbursable by the Federal Emergency Management Agency due to the unlawfulness of the overtime pay.
Babauta noted that Atalig also stated at the same meeting that he will do nothing unless instructed by the Office of the Attorney General or the Office of the Public Auditor to collect such payments.
At a Senate session last month, Sen. Edith E. DeLeon Guerrero (D-Saipan) stated that Super Typhoon Yutu’s over $8 million overtime payments to exempted employees and the subsequent disallowed reimbursement by FEMA made the CNMI’s deficit balloon by $8 million or 12%.