More lawmakers back Pai for 2nd term at OPA

Some wonders governor’s move when Legislature rejects another appointee

More lawmakers are supporting Public Auditor Michael Pai’s reappointment, adding that Gov. Eloy S. Inos would have a tough job justifying replacing Pai in an election year and given Pai’s independence and integrity in going after those who committed corruption and other wrongdoings in public office.

Rep. Anthony Benavente (Ind-Saipan) said yesterday he is also backing House Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz’s (Ind-Saipan) plan of introducing a legislative initiative making the public auditor post an elected one similar to an attorney general if Pai is not reappointed.

Benavente pointed out that even if Pai was appointed by former governor Benigno R. Fitial in 2008, that didn’t deter Pai and the whole Office of the Public Auditor from pursuing Fitial, along with his then-attorney general Edward T. Buckingham, for corruption and other wrongdoings allegations. Buckingham was found guilty of corruption charges.

“That shows Pai has independence and integrity. He holds officials accountable for their actions,” Benavente said.

Rep. Christopher Leon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations, said last night that while the decision to reappoint or replace Pai rests with the governor, it would be tough for the governor to get lawmakers’ support, given some members’ position on the matter.

“What happens if the Legislature rejects the governor’s public auditor appointee if it’s not Mr. Pai?” Leon Guerrero asked.

He believes that having an appointed public auditor works for the CNMI, given that Pai was a Fitial appointee yet that didn’t stop OPA under his leadership from looking into Fitial’s alleged corrupt actions while CNMI governor.

Fitial was the first CNMI governor to be impeached by the House of Representatives for corruption, felony, and neglect of duty. Fitial resigned days before the start of his impeachment trial at the Senate. A corruption case against Fitial is still ongoing, with OPA’s legal counsel George Hasselback as special prosecutor.

“Again, I believe there is no reason for Pai to not be reappointed but the decision rests with the governor. The governor might have plans. We respect the governor’s authority,” Leon Guerrero said.

Other lawmakers previously expressed support to Pai.

On Monday, Pai told Saipan Tribune he is committed to a second term if the governor reappoints him.

The governor confirmed Saturday he has checked a few individuals for the public auditor’s post, but clarified that he has not decided yet whether to reappoint or replace Pai.

Pai’s six-year term as CNMI public auditor ends on Oct. 26, just a few days before the Nov. 4 general elections.

Concerned citizen Glen Hunter said it is his sincere belief that had Pai not been the CNMI public auditor, there is a strong chance Fitial would still be the sitting governor “with Inos still sitting by him.”

“No other public authority rose to challenge the abuses of public trust committed by Fitial other than that of OPA under Pai’s guidance. When other public officials ignored the people’s calls for justice, Pai’s team took the lead in a valiant attempt to restore integrity in our government,” Hunter added.

Haidee V. Eugenio | Reporter
Haidee V. Eugenio has covered politics, immigration, business and a host of other news beats as a longtime journalist in the CNMI, and is a recipient of professional awards and commendations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental achievement award for her environmental reporting. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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