The House of Representatives’ minority bloc is looking to finalize as soon as possible its report on Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ executive expenditures based on their Open Government Act request in December, especially with a new special bipartisan committee appointed to also do an oversight.
In an interview, Rep. Tina Sablan (D-Saipan) said that, while they want to get the report done before the end of the month, legal reviews still have to be done before the minority can submit the report to the entire House.
“We expect that it will be helpful for the special committee going forward. It will include a list of witnesses that we’d like to summon to the Legislature to offer further clarity as to what these expenditures are all about and how or whether they’re justified for public purposes,” she said.
Last year, the House minority bloc asked Finance Secretary David Atalig for access to its records on Torres’ travels, allowances, executive security, and requests for reimbursement from October 2014, among others.
Citing a newly created special committee, Sablan said that there might be an overlap or intersection of their investigation with the other committee.
“We are looking at executive expenditures, and a big problem has been this issue of overtime for Cabinet members that the governor has authorized again in this COVID-19 disaster. That may be a factor in this new investigation,” she said. “Concerns with the community benefit fund that may be an issue that comes up as well. I’m not sure how broad the committee will want the scope of the investigation to be, but the governor did play a huge role in enforcing the terms of the casino license agreement.”
According to the legislator, it is “pretty clear” from the records that they have seen that the governor has done “very little enforcement at all” over the last couple of years on the community benefit fund.
As for criticisms about the oversight being about politics, Sablan said this “to be expected.”
“But I would also say that the criticism that this is about politics tends to come from people who are also in positions of politics,” she added.
She pointed out that the minority has been calling for an oversight since last year, and have called for a fair, impartial, and bipartisan investigation. COVID-19 have had a lot to do with the delays, she added, but now that the Legislature is meeting again, they are ready to be as fair and impartial and professional as they can.
“I think it would be even more political to ignore these issues, to not do our jobs. Legislative oversight is an essential function of this Legislature, and checks and balances are an important part of our legal system. That’s really what this is about,” she added.