Lawmakers’ differing views on Fund emergency

NMI Retirement Fund administrator Richard Villagomez urged the Legislature to override Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s executive order declaring a state of emergency for the pension agency, or at least address the Fund’s specific concerns such as clarifying that trust assets will be kept separate from assets of the CNMI or its agencies and establish a mechanism in which at least $13 million annually in employer contributions is deposited to the trust for it to last until 2014.

Most Senate and House members interviewed yesterday said they are still undecided on the Fund’s requested rejection of the EO, and only a few are either voting “yes” or “no.”

Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan), meanwhile, is now drafting a letter asking the Office of the Public Auditor to audit the Fund’s legal expenses, reportedly reaching $1.2 million in connection with the Fund’s filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition that a federal court later dismissed.

“At this point in time, I will not consider rejecting the governor’s EO. The question now is whether the Fund will continue hiring attorneys at astronomical cost.and to think they lost the [bankruptcy] case. Unbelievable,” Dela Cruz told Saipan Tribune.

He added that he will ask whether an RFP was issued to solicit legal counsel for the bankruptcy filing. “If not, why not?” he asked.

Weighing options

Manglona, in an interview yesterday, reiterated that the Senate leadership is poised to consider rejecting the governor’s Fund EO for a host of reasons.

He said the Senate will meet again today with Fund officials to discuss the pension agency in general and the governor’s emergency declaration.

“We also want to hear directly from them their justification and analysis on the dangers and risks if the EO is not rejected or amended,” Manglona said.

Senate floor leader Pete Reyes (R-Saipan), for his part, said he will vote “no” to rejecting the EO “because the governor’s action is a plan to rescue the Fund while the Legislature really has no plan.”

House floor leader George Camacho (Ind-Saipan) and Rep. Trenton Conner separately said they haven’t seen the Fund letter yet so they cannot comment on the Fund’s request yet.

Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian) said he would like to hear first the Fund’s plan in today’s meeting with senators before commenting on either to reject the EO or not.

Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) said he is not convinced yet that the current ideas tossed around to save the Fund are sufficient enough and until he gets more information, he is holding off voting on rejecting or amending the EO.

However, if the goal of the EO were simply to re-organize the Retirement Fund there is no need to declare a state of emergency. With three agencies under “state of emergency” and all desperately in need of cash, the Fund is concerned that the EO appears to be setting the stage to “reprogram” Fund assets for purposes other than the paying of benefits to members.

The Senate president said these details will be included in today’s meeting with the Fund.

Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos, the administration’s point man in efforts to save the Fund, earlier told reporters that the administration retains the Fund EO despite calls for its rejection.

Manglona said it’s not only the Retirement Fund, but also the Commonwealth Retirees Association that is asking the Legislature to reject the governor’s EO on the Fund.

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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