Virginia C. Villagomez, the newly appointed special assistant for the Office of Management and Budget, disclosed last week that, in the previous Torres administration in which she also served as OMB special assistant, she would remind the Department of Finance secretary about the terms and conditions of the American Rescue Plan Act whenever she finds deviations, but she was ignored.
Speaking at a press conference presided by Gov. Arnold I. Palacios and Lt. Gov. David M. Apatang last Wednesday, Villagomez said that when she was the OMB special assistant during the previous administration, it was the beginning of the infusion of ARPA funds, when their office would be informed of allotments with respect to ARPA allocations pursuant to the CNMI ARPA plan.
She said whenever there were any deviations, she would immediately call the Department of Finance, the Office of the Secretary, to remind them that there are terms and conditions in the use of ARPA funds that the CNMI must follow. The Finance secretary at the time was David DLG Atalig.
“The response was there was no response at all,” Villagomez said.
As for the working group that Palacios had formed to review the CNMI government’s finances, Villagonmez said that, from a budget perspective, they will proceed with the revised budget based a determination of what remains of ARPA.
“At that point, we will identify the cost-containment measures that we will implement, and then wait for the Department of Finance to report to the governor of any revised projections on the budget,” she said.
In December 2021, citing only “the interest of the Commonwealth, then-governor Ralph DLG Torres terminated the services of Villagomez as then-special assistant for OMB.
At the same news briefing last week, acting Finance secretary Tracy B. Norita said the outcome of their working group will eventually lead to the 2023 budget revision. She pointed out that the Department of Finance is currently implementing a new financial management system, which has led to some certain findings.
“One of the things that we uncovered was the budgetary controls that were supposed to be turned off for essential expenditures. Because when you transition from an old system to a new system, government operations don’t stop. And so in order for us to continue providing essential services, we can’t have the system stop us from putting fuel into ambulances, or paying our police officers and things like that,” Norita said.
“And so that was the highlight of the issue in the transition report,” said Norita, who is the director of Revenue and Taxation from the previous administration and until now.
Norita said this transition report and the findings are really coming out of the Finance secretary’s office.
“And so that’s where were starting and that’s how we’re going to move forward, to really start with the secretary’s office and all the decisions and authorizations that were made at that level,” she added.
Norita said she would not say that the CNMI’s fiscal condition was hidden from her; it’s just there were items that were not made available to them.
“Only certain people, I would say, were aware of the true nature of our fiscal condition. Each director has their own division and their own operations as their sole responsibility,” she said.