It is alarming and frightening to know that the CNMI Legislature has passed House Bill 19-95, without much deliberation or thought as to its adverse public policy consequences.
If signed into law by the governor, House Bill 19-95 will exempt the Commonwealth Lottery Commission from many of the substantive provisions of the Open Government Act. Its main purpose is apparently to exempt the commission in matters affecting Best Sunshine, the exclusive casino licensee, from the reach of the Open Government Act. And this will be extremely detrimental and contrary to furthering the best interest of the people of the CNMI.
If this bill becomes law, all proceedings, all records and all hearings involving Best Sunshine will be conducted or kept in secret. All commission documents involving Best Sunshine will be kept confidential. No member of the public will be allowed to obtain any public documents regarding public hearings and proceedings involving Best Sunshine. No member of the public will ever know what’s going on between the commission and Best Sunshine.
What is going on? Why do the House, the Senate and the administration appear to be in cahoots with Best Sunshine almost all of the time? First, they enacted the exclusive casino license legislation with lightning speed, without any public hearing, and contrary to past public referenda. Then they engaged in making several amendments to the initial casino license legislation in order to fit Best Sunshine’s exclusive interest. And now, as crowning glory, they have decided to exempt the commission from the Open Government Act with respect to Best Sunshine primarily. In so doing, everything and anything involving Best Sunshine that is before the Commonwealth Lottery Commission will be kept secret, and the people of the Commonwealth will remain in the dark as to what’s going on with Best Sunshine and its operations. Is this what we want?
There is simply not one good reason for this private-interest legislation. The CNMI government is shooting itself in the foot. And we shall at some point regret having passed such “sweetheart” legislation. The only possible reason I could surmise for the Legislature passing this special interest legislation is all the money that Best Sunshine has been doling out to the government, to the public, to NGOs, to the schools, and to so many others.
But there is no such thing as a “free lunch.” At some point, whoever gives you something for “free” will ask you for a favor, i.e., for something in return. This is the “quid pro quo,” as they say in Latin. At some point the government has to return the favor. But that is not the way any self-respecting government should operate. Otherwise, the CNMI will be seen as a corrupt place to do business. Is this what we want to be?
I, therefore, call on Gov. Eloy S. Inos and Lt. Gov. Ralph Torres to please veto this measure. Please follow the dictates of the people who elected you, not the private interest of friends and cronies. It is bad for the government, bad for the people of the CNMI, bad for the commission, and bad for Best Sunshine. Best Sunshine should have nothing to hide, if its casino operation in the Commonwealth is to go forward and succeed. Just follow the law, like everyone else does.
Jose S. Dela Cruz
Navy Hill, Saipan