Task force created to probe white collar crimes, gov’t corruption
A task force has been created to focus on investigating white collar crimes, government corruption, consumer protection, and financial crimes.
Edward Cabrera, who is the chief investigator for the Investigative Division of the Office of Public Auditor, disclosed that the task force was created with the signing of a memorandum of agreement that involves OPA, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Department of Public Safety.
Cabrera talked briefly about the task force’s formation in his comments on House Bill 23-44 during a meeting by the House of Representatives Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee.
“Our goal is to alleviate concerns about unbridled corruption by establishing this task force,” he said during the meeting’s public comments portion in the House chamber.
House Bill 23-44 seeks to improve criminal investigations by the OPA of fraud, waste and abuse in the collection and expenditure of public funds.
JGO Committee chair Rep. Marissa Renee Flores (Ind-Saipan) is the author of the bill. The committee passed H.B. 23-44 in the form of House Substitute 1.
House legal counsel John Bradley said the substitute essentially responds to the comments of the OPA and to the recent actions of the OAG, OPA, and DPS.
In OPA’s comments before the passage of the bill, Cabrera said he understands that there’s a substitute bill and that they hope they be given an opportunity to review and make comments on the new substitute bill. He, however, said they still would like to present their response to the original bill, that while the intentions behind the legislation may seem positive, it neglects a crucial aspect of their current protocols.
Cabrera said their system involves meticulous maintenance and monitoring of cases through investigations and referral of cases to the OAG when necessary.
He said the bill’s requirement for OPA to provide statistics directly to the OAG undermines their autonomy as they are independent entity established under the Constitution.
The chief investigator said assessing case statistics is easily achievable through the OPA website, rendering the proposed legislation unnecessary as there is no existing problem to address.
He said there is also no need to modify the Commonwealth Code that deals with referrals of action.
Cabrera said the current law has resulted in the OPA’s successful prosecution of a former governor and former attorney general.
“It is crucial to uphold transparency and prevent any perception of favoritism by ensuring that the governor remains within this specific category,” he pointed out.
The chief investigator said fighting corruption is a complex challenge and it requires the enactment of appropriate laws. He said legislators must prioritize creating comprehensive laws that define offenses and mandates substantial penalties proportional to the seriousness of public corruption.
“Corruption is a disease that demands such action,” said Cabrera, adding that this will enable OPA and the OAG to take necessary actions against corruption-related offenses.
He said the current laws are either absent or inadequate in holding corrupt individuals responsible for their wrongdoing and do not effectively discourage such misconduct.
Cabrera said observing corruption within the CNMI government is concerning, especially when top officials are implicated.
He said as part of a team committed to rooting out corruption, legal restrictions that obstruct their investigative efforts are disheartening.
The chief investigator said the absence of accountability for government officials enables unethical and corrupt practices to persist.
He said legislators must take firm measures by passing laws that hold accountable those who facilitate, promote or engage in corrupt conduct.
Rather than focusing on a specific bill like H. B. 23-44, Cabrera said it is more advantageous to tackle the root causes of public corruption and enhance laws that can effectively combat it. Therefore, he said, it is unlikely that H. B. 23-44 will make significant progress in investigating, prosecuting, or reducing government corruption.
“Enacting legislation that only partially addresses corruption, or at worse, fails to address it all, is unhelpful and creates needless bureaucratic obstacles,” Cabrera said.
He said to effectively combat widespread corruption in the government, comprehensive anti-corruption laws are urgently needed and the CNMI needs to demonstrate unwavering political determination by enacting strong anti-corruption laws, providing adequate funding to independent agencies responsible for investigating and prosecuting corrupt activities, and enforcing laws that hold public officials accountable for their actions.