Gov. Ralph DLG Torres has asked the House of Representatives to put off acting on a bill that would abolish the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., urging lawmakers to give the CHCC’s board more time to work.
In a letter to the bill’s author, House vice speaker Janet U. Maratita (R-Saipan), Torres urged that Maratita’s House Bill 20-149 be “recalled from any further action” for now.
H.B. 20-149, introduced last week, would abolish the CHCC and its board and reinstate it as the Department of Public Health under the Office of the Governor.
In his letter to Maratita dated Jan. 30, 2018, Torres requested a halt on H.B. 20-149 in order for the CHCC board to “be “given the time and opportunity to exercise their authority to fulfill our shared goal of improving health outcomes and accountability within this most critical institution.”
The letter states that Torres is pleased with the current CHCC board’s composition and its direction.
“I have great faith in [the CHCC board] to undertake a thorough and diligent review of the management of the hospital and will act upon their decisions in a manner that will safeguard the day-to-day operations of the corporation,” he said.
In introducing the bill during last Friday’s House session, Maratita accused the CHCC management of not being transparent with its finances, among other things.
She also pointed out that CHCC had written off a debt of over $203 million, reportedly at the recommendation of the Public Auditor. However, CHCC was reportedly unable to provide evidence of that recommendation.
Maratita added that CHCC’s uncooperativeness with the CNMI Legislature was another factor after the vice speaker requested in late December 2017 for an extensive compilation of about 26 reports but have yet to receive one.
CHCC chief executive officer Esther Muña said that the $203-million debt was deemed uncollectible and was inherited from DPH as it transitioned into the CHCC back in 2011, which was the reason behind the Public Auditor’s reported recommendation to write it off.
Muña also said that her office has already reached out to the vice speaker to request for more time to compile the lengthy reports she had requested; however, Muña said that Maratita did not respond to the request.
Muña also added that at this time of the year, the corporation is responding to several annual audits and annual reports required by both the public auditor and the CHCC board.
Initially, H.B. 20-149 was referred to a special committee. The special committee was later dissolved. House Speaker Rafael Demapan (R-Saipan) then referred the bill to the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee and the House Health Committee.