Public auditor Michael Pai’s reappointment or replacement hangs in the balance barely a month before his current six-year term expires in October, as Gov. Eloy S. Inos said on Saturday that it still is “an open question right now” and he has “a few names in mind” that he’s not ready to disclose yet. Inos said he would meet with Pai personally in a week or two before deciding.
Pai’s reappointment or replacement “depends on many things,” the governor said.
When asked whether he would inform Pai that he as governor is also considering other individuals for the post, Inos said, “If I’m looking still by that time, I will tell him. If not, I will tell him the same.”
Pai, an appointee of former governor Benigno R. Fitial in October 2008, told Saipan Tribune earlier that he is “interested in continuing” his work as CNMI public auditor.
Inos said “ideally” he would like to have his own appointee for public auditor “but that really is not the case. “
“I’m going to be meeting with Mr. Pai in the next week or two to talk about this and other matters…” the governor told Saipan Tribune on Saturday night at the newly-renovated cultural village in Garapan as part of DFS Galleria’s rebranding. The luxury shopping giant reinvented itself as T Galleria.
With Pai at the helm of the Office of the Public Auditor, high-profile corruption cases were pursued including those involving Fitial and his attorney general Edward Buckingham.
Buckingham was found guilty of all public corruption charges except one and was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison, all suspended. The case against Fitial is still ongoing. Fitial became the first CNMI governor to be impeached by the CNMI House of Representatives on corruption, felony and neglect of duty. He resigned on Feb. 20, 2013, days before an impeachment trial at the Senate.
Inos said the public auditor’s position has specific qualification requirements, including being a certified public accountant.
“I’ve checked a few people and they just don’t want it (the public auditor’s post),” Inos said. “It’s an open question right now.”
When asked whether he’s satisfied with Pai’s performance, Inos declined to comment.
Inos, when asked why it wouldn’t be Pai again, he countered, “Or why him again?”
“It’s really unfair for him because I haven’t discussed this in detail (with him), the kind of questions you’re asking,” the governor said.
Concerned citizen Glen Hunter said he believes that OPA under Pai’s guidance “has done a large service to our community.”
“They were a saving grace to governmental authority under the Fitial administration. When the former AG and former DPS commissioner not only turned a blind eye but also assisted in acts of public corruption, the Public Auditor and his team stepped up. They have directly investigated and challenged numerous allegations of public corruption. Without Pai and his team, I believe that the pleas from this community for justice against the former AG (Buckingham) and impeached governor (Fitial) would have gone unanswered,” Hunter told Saipan Tribune.
Hunter reminded that much of those exposed public corruption cases are still ongoing.
And because of that, he said there is a strong chance that current government officials who may be tied in some way to those ongoing investigations “would be hopeful that Pai’s contract not renewed.”
“Therefore, it is up to the community to ensure that does not happen,” Hunter said.
Hunter added that with Pai reportedly wanting to remain at his post, “I believe it would be unconscionable for the sitting governor not to reappoint him.”
“A move such as that would send a strong negative message to the community on where this administration stands on the issue of public corruption. If any department deserves credit for tackling, head on, the recent abuses of power and authority by Fitial, Buckingham, and others, it definitely is Pai’s OPA. I commend Pai on his performance and thank him and his team for all they have done and continue to do to fight public corruption,” Hunter added.
Pai earlier said OPA is quite proud of its accomplishments during his term, including the refocusing of the audit operations and increasing the number of audits.
OPA has also enhanced the government corruption and white-collar crime investigations division “and believe that there will be cooperation with the Office of the Attorney General in the pursuit of corruption in the coming months,” Pai had said.
OPA has also improved the processing of appeals of procurement decisions, he said.
Pai has been a certified public accountant for more than 20 years. He attended the University of Hawaii, where he completed degrees in engineering and business administration. He put up his own accounting firm in 1986, after working for a number of corporations and an accounting firm. He was also a shareholder for some businesses based in Guam, Minnesota, and Saipan.