The House of Representatives will seek the legal opinion of the CNMI Attorney General regarding cash donations to the Legislature.
House Speaker Joseph D. Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) cited a $100,000 cash donation that Best Sunshine International, Ltd. pledged to give to the House of Representatives.
“The latest agreement is we have to turn over the money to the [Saipan] Mayor’s Office,” Deleon Guerrero said.
What usually happens, according to Deleon Guerrero, is that donations will go to the Department of Finance, which will then release the funds to the intended recipient.
“So the House of Representatives won’t physically get it [cash donation]. It will go from Best Sunshine to an account set up by Department of Finance and then it will be given to the Mayor’s Office for that purpose [hiring of manpower and equipment for cleanup],” Deleon Guerrero said.
However, this had to be put on hold.
“Even Best Sunshine also does not want to do it if it is not legal. We have to clear this first with the AG,” Deleon Guerrero said, stressing that “the money will not come to us.”
Deleon Guerrero added that “whatever manner or form, donations will not be received by the Legislature, and no, we are not the ones to spend it. Instead, it will be a ‘pass through’ to the recipient.”
The lawmaker said in his personal opinion, “we should not be the ones distributing anything.”
“That is not our job, we can look good doing it, but that should not be the case. If it’s food items, give it to Karidat or Red Cross. If it’s cash, give it to the Mayor’s Office,” he said.
Deleon Guerrero said “this can be construed as a conflict of interest.”
“It can be misconstrued—I’m not saying it is—as some kind of gesture from Best Sunshine because we passed the [casino] law,” Deleon Guerrero said.
The scenario is that Best Sunshine donates the cash, the Legislature receives, and then it is given to the people.
“And then in the future, there needs to be an amendment to the casino law, and that could put us in a position of conflict of interest. And none of us will be able to vote on it. That is my worry,” he said. “We should not put ourselves into that kind of a position.”
Gov. Eloy S. Inos earlier said he wants accountability and proper reporting as donations—in cash and in-kind—continue to pour into the CNMI.
The Office of the Governor and Office of the Lt. Governor earlier received a $100,000 cash donation from BSI.
BSI has already donated significant amounts to the government and other agencies heavily involved in the ongoing relief and recovery efforts.
Inos said he would recommend all donations to be coursed through the government so that there will be a “measure of accountability.”
For cash donations, Inos said a non-profit foundation has been set up. The foundation will have a board of directors who will then meet and determine what to prioritize.
Inos said he is making it clear that it is “up to the donor,” but he would still recommend coursing donations to the government.
Aside from accountability, coursing the donations directly to the government “is also for the sake of generating reports.”
BSI’s total assistance to the CNMI, including to the government, Legislature, and non-government agencies, has reportedly reached $500,000.