The House of Representatives’ minority bloc has asked House Gaming Committee chair Ralph Yumul (R-Saipan) to subpoena Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) to ask it about the community benefit fund that it is supposed to underwrite.
Finding no records of disbursements of the community benefit fund aside from the $1.2 million that’s been distributed to four programs, the minority has asked Yumul to consider issuing a subpoena to the sole casino license holder on Saipan.
Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan), in an interview, said that the records that they have gathered from an Open Government Act request to the Office of the Governor show that the Governor’s Office can account for only about $1.2 million in total for four different programs that received these funds back in 2018, but that there is nothing else in the record to show any other distributions of funds. The minority formally submitted the documents they received through their OGA request to the House of Representatives at the session last Thursday.
Under the Casino License Agreement, IPI was required to contribute $10 million to the community benefit fund in January 2018, $10 million in June 2018, and another $20 million in October 2019, and every year after that.
“We have no other records other than the disbursements of $1.2 million,” Sablan said. “What that means is that the Governor’s Office cannot account for $38.8 million, and we did verify with his legal counsel [that] these are all…they have. That was all he could say at that point. What we’ve asked the Gaming Committee chairman to consider doing is to issue a subpoena to IPI to seek their records in terms of how these community benefit funds are actually being managed.”
She further stated that the Gaming Committee, like any standing committee of the House, has powers to issue a subpoena to conduct oversight and legislative investigations, and that IPI, under the Casino Commission’s regulations, is obligated to respond to legislative oversight requests.
“But the real the bottom line question is, where’s the money, and why hasn’t the Governor’s Office done very much at all based on the record to enforce that obligation?” Sablan asked. “If there is some funding that really should be a public benefit, especially if it’s something like $38.8 million, you need to hold on to that promise, and ensure that these benefits are getting out to people, especially at a time like this.”
Under the Casino License Agreement, the community benefit fund can be used for projects that could benefit health care, public education, retirement benefits, and infrastructure.