Manibusan seeks passage of bill that protects OAG’s autonomy
CNMI Attorney General Edward Manibusan has sought the help of Sen. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) and Rep. Marissa Flores (Ind-Saipan) to pass legislation that he says protects the autonomy of the Office of the Attorney General.
Manibusan told Babauta and Flores that in order to provide the Commonwealth’s need to address current issues involving waste and abuse of public funds, the Office of the Attorney General requires filling the four attorney positions that have not been funded, including funds to provide administrative support. In all, the OAG would need $414,640, he said.
Manibusan met with Babauta last Monday, Feb. 13, and with Flores last Jan. 23, to discuss the importance of an autonomous OAG. He subsequently wrote separate but identical letters to Babauta and Flores about their discussions.
Babauta chairs the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Government and Law, while Flores chairs the House of Representatives Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee.
In his letter to Babauta last week, Manibusan said he cannot emphasize enough the importance of the attorney general having authority over the hiring of OAG employees, independent of the Civil Service Commission.
He said that granting that authority to the OAG fulfills the constitutional mandate that creates the office as an independent agency within the Executive Branch and protects against unnecessary political interference by other members of the Executive Branch.
Manibusan said the AG’s Investigative Division performs essential law enforcement functions directly under his control and direction must have clear statutory authority to serve as the OAG’s investigative arm.
He said the AGID investigators perform tasks that are fundamental in implementing the full range of OAG duties and responsibilities, from criminal prosecution to consumer protection to administrative and civil division investigations.
Having a statute that fully sets for the AGID’s law enforcement functions for the office will protect the integrity of the OAG and its constitutional mission, Manibusan said.
The AG also told Flores that, in order to meet their mandate for prosecution of violations of Commonwealth laws, the OAG must be able to hire staff without hindrance from outside agencies.
“This has not been the case and has frustrated our efforts in hiring, investigating and prosecuting criminal and civil cases,” Manibusan said.
The attorney general attached in his letters to Babauta and Flores the OAG’s draft legislation that was previously presented to then-Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) and then-22nd House of Representatives Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan).
The AG also attached three bills that the OAG drafted and forwarded to the 22nd Legislature for consideration, for Babauta’s and Flores’ review and reference. The draft bills are the proposed amendments to the Government Liability Act, amendments to the definition of dangerous weapon and serious bodily harm, and requiring strict conditions of bail.
Manibusan also brought to Babauta’s and Flores’ attention the importance of adequately funding the OAG and the problems posed by the Public Law 22-22, the current appropriation and budget authority for the Commonwealth government.
He pointed out that the appropriation for the OAG for fiscal year 2023 does not appropriate any money to the OAG for operations and zero funded necessary attorney positions.
For personnel, Manibusan said they need $306,460 to fill four attorney positions.
For three assistant attorney general positions at the Civil Division and one AAG position at the Criminal Division, $76,615 in annual salaries and benefits are needed, for a total of $306,460.
The total airfare for the four attorneys is $7,600, while their relocation cost is $20,000.
For operations, the OAG needs $108,518 to pay vendors, including utility and phone bills, for fiscal year 2023.