Subpoena for BOOST records OK’d
Two House of Representatives committees jointly agreed yesterday afternoon to subpoena all records related to the Torres administration’s Building Optimism, Opportunities and Stability Together Program in a bid to find out who have been awarded funds and those who have been denied or still awaiting disposition.
Both the committees on Ways and Means and Judiciary and Governmental Operations agreed during a joint meeting in the House chamber to issue a subpoena to the Department of Finance, Department of Commerce, the Office of the Governor, and Bank of Saipan to compel them to produce the BOOST records.
This comes even as Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig had already written last Friday to Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota) and JGO committee chair Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) to inform them that their request for information about the BOOST Program had already been forwarded to BOS, which is the administering authority for the program.
Atalig also told Babauta and Manglona that when he received the committees’ request for BOOST documents, he and Commerce Secretary Edward M. Deleon Guerrero were off-island.
Babauta and Manglona had initially given Atalig and Deleon Guerrero until Friday, Nov. 18, to provide the BOOST records.
The BOOST Program is a project of the Office of the Governor and the Department of Commerce that aims to provide financial assistance to CNMI businesses and non-profit organizations.
At yesterday’s joint committee session, after a long discussion about the program, it was Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan) who moved to issue the subpoena.
All seven JGO members present voted “yes” to the motion: Babauta, vice speaker Rep. Blas Jonathan T. Attao (Ind-Saipan), Sablan, Manglona, Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan), Richard T. Lizama (D-Saipan), and Vicente Camacho (D-Saipan).
All 10 Ways and Means Committee members present voted “yes.” They were Manglona, Reps. Corina L. Magofna (Ind-Saipan), Babauta, Vicente Camacho, Lizama, Propst, Sablan, Joel Camacho (R-Saipan), Leila Staffler (D-Saipan), and Denita K. Yangetmai (D-Saipan). Two members were absent.
In her motion, Rep. Christina Sablan said the requested records are list of applicants who have been awarded and the amount awarded, and applicants who have been denied or still awaiting disposition. The other records requested are contracts awarded such as administration, marketing, advertising, event planning, or other aspects of the program, any guidance regulations requirements internal or otherwise governing the administration of this program, as well as correspondence related to the administration of the program, and any criteria or rubrics used in reviewing the applications.
They also requested the names of the review panel and a description of the review and decision-making process, and the sources of funding, the total amount of funding actually available, and the caps on BOOST awards, if any.
Sablan further moved that the committee chairs work with the House legal counsel to prepare the subpoena and issue them at their discretion as soon as possible.
Before Sablan offered the motion, Manglona said that whenever Atalig is gone and whenever the committee submits any request to him or to his office, they’ve been good at allowing the acting secretary to submit some of these documents prior to any deadline.
Manglona said he is not sure about it this time around and that, as some committee members have mentioned, they’d prefer not having to go through this route of subpoenas, when they’re just trying to have an open communication with these departments.
“There are a lot of questions that we ourselves can’t even answer and yet we’re the Legislature and we control the purse,” Manglona said.
Babauta said they are fact finding and that this is part of their research. She cited a statute regarding the cooperation of government officers and employees, as well as a statute referring to acquisition of information by other lawful means.
During discussions of the program, Sablan quoted Atalig’s interview in Monday’s newspapers, where he is said to have stated that there is nothing to hide in the BOOST Program.
“We have certainly heard that line before many times by none other than his boss, the governor himself. And the governor was quoted as saying there is nothing political about BOOST. Nothing to hide. …And yet they hide. They hide so much,” Sablan said.
She said the committees have asked for documents and information that should be 100% public records and should be 100% be available to the public. “Why? Because these are 100% public funds being handed out through a program overseen by government officials,” she added.
She pointed out that when it comes to public funds, they should expect timely 100% compliance to their requests for information.
Sablan said the committees have sought basic information that both Atalig and Deleon Guerrero should be able to provide right away.
She said there are other questions too that she thinks the officials in charge of this program should be able to answer immediately with 100% transparency, especially since the program is already rolling out and checks are already being issued.
“Where are the program guidelines? They’re nowhere in the website. So where are they? Certainly nothing was published for public review and comment before the governor rolled out this program. I suspect they don’t exist. Because if they did exist, why not publish that?” said Sablan as she raised more questions.
Sablan and her running mate, Staffler, of the Democratic Party, came third in the three-way gubernatorial race in the Nov. 8 general elections.
Propst pointed out that if Atalig and Deleon Guerrero are off-island, the acting secretaries should be capable of answering the questions. “Do their offices shut down…when they travel off island?”