Sablan questions ‘flurry’ of renewals of executive orders
Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan) on Monday questioned the slew of executive orders from Gov. Ralph DLG Torres that renewed the declarations for a State of Public Health Emergency and State of Significant Emergency for the CNMI due to COVID-19 threat.
Speaking at a House of Representatives session, Sablan said one executive order also renewed the previous EO purporting to authorize the Finance secretary to reprogram or transfer funds from the accounts of the government to meet the COVID-19 threat.
As of press time yesterday, Saipan Tribune was still awaiting comments from Torres.
Sablan noted that these executive orders, dated Jan. 10, Jan. 18, Feb. 10, March 13, April 8, May 8, and June 7, all in 2022, were stamped received by the office of the House speaker on June 28, 2022.
Sablan pointed out that, as far as they can tell, none of these executive orders were published in the Commonwealth Register and that the last publication of an order related to COVID-19 appeared in October 2021.
“I find it interesting and highly suspect that we are just now receiving this flurry of executive orders after this body—primarily through the Ways and Means Committee—has been making inquiries with the Governor’s Office and with [the Department of] Finance on contracts and procurement practices related to the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 response,” she said.
Sablan pointed out that, at their most recent meeting last week with Patrick Guerrero, who is the Governor’s Authorized Representative to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, she specifically asked whether the CNMI was still in a state of emergency, because they haven’t received any declaration notices. Sablan said that even Guerrero didn’t know and stated that he had also just inquired himself.
“Did the governor just forget to notify the Legislature that he was continuing the state of emergency? Did he just decide it wasn’t that important?” she asked.
Sablan questioned if Torres did backdate these emergency declarations and if they are legally valid.
“How significant can the emergency be if he’s forgetting or otherwise failing to let the people know about it? Or hiding it?” Sablan asked.
She inquired what funds have been reprogrammed without any real oversight or accountability during this period of “purported emergency” and what contracts have been awarded and paid under fast-tracked emergency protocols. “Are these executive orders really meant to provide cover for that?” Sablan said.
Sablan said it may well be that the state of emergency is necessary and that Guerrero kind of suggested as much to ensure that the Commonwealth remains eligible for federal reimbursements, and that she can appreciate.
Sablan said, however, what worries her is that they have been operating under state of emergency procurement status for more than two straight years now—”that’s two straight years of emergency and sole source contracts with very little oversight.”
“Two straight years of practically unchecked reprogramming power. Colleagues, the rest of the Commonwealth is moving toward normalcy, but the government is lagging far behind. And there’s really nothing normal about how we’re spending public money and who’s really benefitting from it,” she said.
Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) said these executive orders, which she described as dubious, were backdated and that essentially executive orders are law.
“But certainly the Constitution did not authorize the governor to apply these laws or executive orders retroactively, and that is very concerning to the Legislature,” Babauta said.
Torres first issued EO 2020-04 on March 16, 2020, declaring a State of Public Health Emergency and a continued Declaration of a State of Significant Emergency, establishing response, quarantine, and preventive measures concerning COVID-19.
Since then, Torres has renewed EO 2020-04 every month, along with the other EO that grants the Finance secretary unlimited reprogramming authority.