‘State of emergency renewals very concerning’
Rep. Sheila Babauta (D-Saipan) finds it “very concerning” that the executive order declaring a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been renewed every month for over a year now, particularly since this grants the Finance secretary unlimited reprogramming authority.
At a House session last Friday, Babauta said that Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ executive order is also a renewal of unlimited reprogramming authority and this has been going on for over a year now.
“We’ve been in this pandemic for over a year. Our community is getting better at responding to it,” said Babauta.
This picture, she said, is further compounded by the nearly half a billion dollars from the federal government that the CNMI government is expecting to come in. Babauta said if you include all the other federal funding coming in for infrastructure education, and the stimulus, that totals to approximately $1 billion.
“The unlimited reprogramming authority is really concerning to me, and to many members of our community, especially those who work in the Executive Branch,” she said.
Torres first declared the state of public health emergency and continued significant emergency in January 2020 in a move to prevent and contain COVID-19 from spreading all over the islands.
In the latest renewal of the state of emergency, Babauta said the renewal was signed on April 19, 2021, and that they just received it that day, Friday, April 23, 2021, and so was not on the agenda.
Babauta said that seeing this again for another renewal provoked her into thinking that they should discuss this matter, especially given the close to $1 billion that’s coming in.
Babauta said she wants to state for the record that this reprogramming authority will allow the Finance secretary to move money from any department, agency office, board, commission, corporation, instrumentality or other entity. “That is very, very high level of power, including any branch of the Commonwealth government. That’s including our branch,” she said.
Babauta said she supports Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez’s (Ind-Saipan) decision to send this communication (emergency declaration) to the House Ways and Means Committee chaired by Rep. Donald Manglona (Ind-Rota).
Villagomez requested Manglona to also look into the renewal effect of this executive order because the order states that this renewal takes effect immediately and remains in effect for 30 days. However, Babauta said, there is a language in the CNMI Constitution restricting the effective date to 60 days.
“So that’s something that I really would like the chairman to look into, the committee to look into,” she said.
Babauta also pointed out that Sen. Justo Quitugua (R-Saipan) actually introduced Senate Legislative Initiative 22-03 to amend Section 10 of Article 3 of the CNMI Constitution to restrict the governor’s emergency powers to within the executive branch, and not including the legislative branch, the judicial branch, and the autonomous agencies.
“And so this is something that the Senate is also, as we can see, is concerned about,” she said. “And so members and colleagues, I just wanted to set for the record that the Senate supports the separation of powers in our government.”