The CNMI government is responsible for the millions of dollars in claims against it and will work to address these ongoing liabilities, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres told Saipan Tribune last week.
Referring to a 2013 law to authorize the CNMI governor to negotiate with claimants for judgments against the government, Torres said there have already been several judgments addressed where a payment plan was worked out.
These payment plans involve offsets of credits on tax liabilities a claimant might have.
“Those have been addressed and therefore the liability has been lessened with the government and we are working on other big judgments against the government,” Torres said in an interview at his office on Capitol Hill.
Torres was responding to questions on the government’s position over ongoing lawsuits against the CNMI government in the Superior Court over these unpaid judgments against government.
Attorney Michael Dotts, arguing on behalf of claimant, has said that a government that does not pay the court judgments against it is “lawless.”
“At the end of the day of those judgments are a liability and our responsibility as a government whether it’s this administration or the next,” Torres said. “We are trying to address the big ones because of the interest rates that continue to accrue.”
According to CNMI government audit documents obtained by Saipan Tribune, the government owes money—in many millions—toward land-taking compensation, breach of contract, medical malpractice, and civil right violations claims.
The audit documents are dated February 2015.
One land compensation claim from 2011 amounts to a whopping $11.46 million; another, from 2009, is at $2.12 million; and another land claim, from 2006, at $754,000.
According to the audit document, the CNMI government has paid out $26,415 of a $986,415 land compensation claim against the Department of Public Lands in 2011. However, some $960,000 still remains unpaid plus accrued post judgment interest from 2011 to present that was not determined in the document.
Torres administration officials said last week the judgments against the government might by now tally over $30 million.
For land compensations claims, officials said, the number amounted to about $100 million. Combined, these number tally close to the fiscal year budgets of recent years.
In 2013, lawmakers noted 17 judgments amounting to over $27 million that have not been paid. The earliest existing judgment found then was over nine years old. The lowest judgment was $34,250 and the highest at $5.9 million.
In at least one case, the accrued interest had already surpassed the principle judgment thus doubling the debt of the government for that case.
“The Judgment Settlement Act of 2013” authorized the CNMI governor to negotiate settlements with claimants and resolve the enormous government liabilities. According to the law, settlements may include “offsets and credits on tax obligation” or other obligations of the claimants or members of their immediate family or third parties who may have such obligations and payments of cash from the Commonwealth general fund or other funds set aside for payments of judgments; including all other settlement methods, authorized by law, other than cash as agreed by parties.