Senate defers action on bill to suspend austerity measures


Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar (R-Saipan), left, confers with his colleagues Tinian Sens. Jude U. Hofschneider and Francisco M. Borja during a recess in yesterday’s Senate session at the Senate Chamber at the Hon. Jesus P. Mafnas Memorial Building on Capital Hill. (Jon Perez)

The Senate has postponed acting on House Bill 20-120, a legislation that would finally increase the salaries of civil service employees that were affected when the government implemented austerity measures.

Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) referred the bill to the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee for further review after several senators raised their concerns on the said legislation in yesterday’s Senate session at the Senate Chamber at the Hon. Jesus P. Mafnas Memorial Building in Capital Hill.

Vice speaker Janet U. Maratita (R-Saipan) introduced H.B. 20-120 in August 2017. The bill, if it becomes a law, would provide salary increases to civil service employees that were not compensated during the government financial austerity measure. The compensation for the more than 1,000 employees amounts to $6 million.

Fiscal Affairs Committee chair Sen. Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Saipan), during the floor discussion, asked Palacios that the Senate should defer acting on the bill due to some issues that needs to be clarified.

Sens. Sixto K. Igisomar (R-Saipan), Teresita A. Santos (R-Rota), and Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) also had the same sentiments prompting Palacios to ask floor leader Sen. Francisco M. Borja (R-Tinian) to withdraw the motion to pass H.B. 20-120.

Palacios then referred the bill to the Fiscal Affairs Committee and instructed Hofschneider to fast track their review. “I would ask the committee to expedite their action on this particular legislation. Whether or not additional changes needs to be made.”

Hofschneider said he has asked the concerned agencies—CNMI Office of Personnel Management and the CNMI Civil Service Commission—to meet with his committee to further discuss the bill.

“The implication of this particular legislation is very crucial. Although I support its intent of addressing this particular issue, I reached out to the agencies that is mandated to provide information and they’ve agreed,” said Hofschneider.

“I asked them to meet with the [Fiscal Affairs] committee and I also asked our fiscal analyst to engage with my office to see what really is the intent of this legislation. I requested that we entertain it but at the same time I’ve also received critical information that some of the language of the bill may not be as originally intended.”

He then asked Palacios that the Fiscal Affairs Committee further discuss the bill. “We want to clarify Mr. President that before we go on and approve the legislation that we have to be mindful that some government agencies have also resorted the same applications as far as austerity measures.”

“We may have to include other agencies in this legislation. It is important to respectfully request to hold the action to this to get more clarity on what the particular legislation is asking.”

Enabling bill

Maratita, in a separate interview, expressed her frustration to the Senate for not acting on the bill since the compensation to the employees affected by the austerity measures is long overdue.

“[H.B. 20-120] is an enabling legislation in order to authorize OPM to allow the payment of over 1,000 employees whose salary increases were suspended due to the austerity measures. Employees who were never given within-grade increases as accorded in the law, which states that all civil servants should be given annual WGI.”

Maratita added that H.B. 20-120 is not an appropriation bill after Igisomar, during the Senate discussion, asked on how the payment would be funded. “We have funding and we have already spoken to Gov. [Ralph DLG Torres].”

“The governor had assured me that there’s funding. It is like you’re not going to take the governor’s word. The governor had asked for this. The Attorney General, OPM, and the governor openly supported the passage of this legislation.”

She said that OPM had been working with this and even gave the list of employees that were affected by the austerity measure. “This is OPM’s project and they gave the certified list of employees.”

“The list does not include who were not entitled like contractual employees. We got comments from OPM and they certified the list and we even forwarded a copy to the Senate. The AG has also commented on the bill.”

Maratita said the employees that were affected have been waiting for the passage of the bill. “I’m just disappointed, because over 1,000 employees have been constantly calling here. I will just let them [Senate] do their due diligence because the House has already done its part.”

“OPM even worked hard to send the list of employees and they certified the amount. [The Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.] too has certified those employees that were under the civil service back then. This legislation is already two years and it’s an election year. I don’t want it to be an election issue.”

She then asked the employees affected to follow up the status of the bill by calling the Senate. “What I wanted is, for those who are waiting for this bill, ask the Senate, call the Senate. The House has done its part.”

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.

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