Lawmakers want to override Torres’ veto on OMB transfer

Posted on Jun 23 2020


Sen. Vinnie Sablan (Ind-Saipan) speaks before the Senate in response to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres vetoing Senate Bill 21-33, SS1, which intends to transfer the Office of Management and Budget into the Department of Finance. The legislators will be pushing to override the veto, with the deadline to override on July 30, 2020. (IVA MAURIN)

The Legislature will be pushing to override Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ veto on Senate Bill 21-33, SS1, which intends to transfer the Office of Management and Budget from the Office of the Governor to the Department of Finance. The deadline to override is July 30, 2020.

OMB is currently headed by special assistant for Management and Budget Virginia Villagomez.

The bill, authored and introduced by Sen. Vinnie Sablan (Ind-Saipan) in June 2019, passed both the House of Representatives and Senate unanimously, before being vetoed by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres last May 30, the last day before the bill would have lapsed into law.

“The Legislature finds that, although the Office of Management and Budget was established within the Office of the Governor, there has been some conflict or discrepancies between the OMB and the Department of Finance regarding the government’s annual operating budget and other financial matters,” the bill reads. “The Legislature finds that in order to promote cooperation and transparency, it would be beneficial to transfer OMB to DOF so that there is a unified position on all matters pertaining to management and budget. Accordingly, the purpose of this legislation is to transfer OMB to the Department of Finance.”

In his veto message dated May 30, Torres stated that the “abrupt and seemingly impulsive” restructuring of OMB, particularly with the CNMI in a pandemic, will cause unnecessary interruptions in the administrative businesses of the government and hinder its ability to swiftly address unanticipated budgetary concerns during these uncertain times.

The governor also stated that the special assistant is charged with “the formulation and execution of the budget, financial management matters, management of human resources, the improvement and administration of governmental affairs, the implementation of consistent budgetary policies, and the ensuring of efficiency throughout the government to achieve maximum effectiveness at minimal cost to taxpayers.”

Streamlining government

Speaking at the Senate session Friday, Sablan reiterated that the bill does not aim to abolish OMB; rather, it aims to restructure and streamline the financial operations of the CNMI government.

The senator agreed that the duties mentioned by the governor “are of great significance” but stressed that “it is in the best interest of the CNMI that this responsibility be at the direction of the top Cabinet official in the administration dealing with financial matters, which, in this particular matter, is the secretary of Finance.”

At the governor’s Fiscal Management Summit last month, the restructuring of the government’s functions and agencies was identified as one of the top priorities to enable the government to function more efficiently. The bill is a step in that direction, Sablan said.

“The democratic process of the Senate acting on the governor’s nominations to fill the most critical positions in the government, through the advice and consent decree, places full responsibility on a nominee upon confirmation. This is to ensure that they fulfill their duties under oath in the Cabinet position the individual is nominated for,” Sablan said. “Therefore, it is of great intendment that the secretary of Finance, who took the oath to perform his duties, has full authority in carrying out the financial operations, management, and matters for the common good of the CNMI government and its people.”


According to the CNMI law, it is the Department of Finance’s duty to provide financial data to the governor, Legislature and departments, agencies, and instrumentalities of the Commonwealth, and to conduct all related financial management activities of the CNMI, aside from budget preparation and post-audit functions.

Yet Section 202 (d) of Executive Order 94-3, which placed OMB under the direct supervision of the governor, states that the OMB special assistant is meant “to ensure discipline in government programs and activities for consistency with the governor’s policies and budget, improve government efficiency by reducing duplication and overlaps between and among agencies, and assist department and activity heads in internal organization and management to achieve maximum effectiveness at minimum cost to the taxpayers.”

These are a “clear overlap of government operations,” Sablan said at the session, adding that, at the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee meeting last week, during the deliberation on House Bill 21-121 HD1, introduced by Rep. Joseph Lee Pan Guerrero (R-Saipan) to give the Legislature control over all of its funding, a letter from the Office of the Attorney General stated that control over legislative funding must remain with the Department of Finance.

OAG stated that Section 8 of Article 10 of the Commonwealth Constitution vests the Department of Finance with control over all expenditures of public funds, where the department must promulgate regulations, including accounting procedures, to require public officials to demonstrate that public funds are used for public purpose.

“I beg to ask the question, does the duties of the special assistant of the OMB stated in the governor’s veto message overreach in the constitutional mandate of the secretary of Finance?” Sablan asked. “For the record, I stand firm on my position to identify areas where the CNMI can have consistency in its fiscal affairs. …Again, the intent of Senate Bill 21-33 does not aim to abolish the [OMB]. It simply aims to restructure the financial operations of the CNMI government so it is streamlined for more efficiency.”

Iva Maurin | Correspondent
Iva Maurin is a communications specialist with environment and community outreach experience in the Philippines and in California. She has a background in graphic arts and is the Saipan Tribune’s community and environment reporter. Contact her at

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