‘Torres had raised concern about high water use’
CUC returned to Finance $90,000 paid for governor’s residence
Commonwealth Utilities Corp. executive director Gary P. Camacho testified Monday before the House of Representatives Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee that Gov. Ralph DLG Torres himself called him in November 2019 and raised a concern about the high volume of water use at his As Teo property.
Camacho said this led to CUC’s inspection if there is a water leak and the subsequent installation of a separate water meter to the piggery, which is located in the same As Teo estate. The governor’s brother, Jack Torres, owns the piggery.
Also, after reviewing Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ billing, CUC made an adjustment to his account, after which CUC returned $90,000 to the Department of Finance out of the $99,724 that Finance had paid for Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ utility billings on May 25, 2021, Camacho said.
Camacho said $11,000 was transferred out from Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ account to a new account that Jack Torres had established. Camacho said Jack Torres accepted that he will be responsible for the payment of $11,000.
The JGO Committee, chaired by Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan), is investigating Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ expenditures of public funds and travels. The committee will continue the hearing today, Wednesday, with Boating Safety official Kevin Aldan as the witness.
At the committee’s hearing Monday, Rep. Vicente Camacho (D-Saipan) said that in reviewing Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ CUC utility billings, particularly at the As Teo property, they were stunned to see unusually high volume of water usage over the course of months. He noted as high as 264,000 gallons of water consumed in a single month from March to April 2019. From May to June 2019, the governor consumed 233,000 gallons of water, and from July to August 2019, usage was 186,000 gallons of water.
“The rate of water consumption is astonishing!” Rep. Vicente Camacho (D-Saipan) said.
Gary Camacho agreed with the lawmaker, that it’s a large volume of water and that such usage seems excessive.
When asked to whether this water consumption is related to the piggery that’s at the site of the governor’s As Teo property, Gary Camacho said he is not aware of the piggery operations itself.
In response to the lawmaker’s question, Gary Camacho disclosed that Gov. Ralph DLG Torres had communicated to him a concern about the high amount of water use at his property, as well as other utility concerns. Gary Camacho related that he received a call from Gov. Ralph DLG Torres in November 2019 about this.
Gary Camacho said he and Torres stayed in contact through the process of review and assessment to make a determination of what will be his bill and the whole water meter isolation process.
In December 2019, Jack Torres submitted an application for a separate water meter, he said. Gary Camacho said the meter was installed in February 2020 and that from May 2020 forward, Jack Torres has been paying his current billings related to water use for the piggery operations.
When Babauta asked if there is a swimming pool in the governor’s As Teo property, Gary Camacho replied he has no such knowledge. As to why the excessive water usage at the governor’s residence did not raise a red flag at CUC, Gary Camacho said this was because the bill was never an issue with the Department of Finance, which was the paying party.
Gary Camacho clarified that there was a CUC work order issued to determine the functionality of the water meter at the governor’s residence and that, upon their assessment, it was determined that the meter is working fine and that there are no complaints from the paying party.
Rep. Vicente Camacho said the fact that one residence was consuming more water in one month than an entire Public School System consumes in a year should have raise red flags for Gary Camacho or for anyone in CUC. Gary Camacho reiterated that they did send an inspector to review the functionality of the meter and that it was determined to be fine.
He said a separate water meter was eventually installed in February 2020 at the As Teo property involving the piggery and other areas outside of the governor’s residence.
He said since the installation of the separate meter, Jack Torres and not the government has been paying the monthly usage for the piggery since May 2020.
He said the meter was installed in February 2020, but there were other works such as internal piping and modification, among other things.
Gary Camacho said what prompted the installation of the new meter under Jack Torres account was due to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ inquiry and his request to separate the billings inside the As Teo property.
Rep. Edwin K. Propst’s (D-Saipan) asked that in over all these years that Jack Torres has operated the piggery in the As Teo estate, the total that he owes is $11,000.
“That’s correct,” Gary Camacho replied.
Gary Camacho said CUC did charge the $99,000 and then Finance issued a check to pay the amount. He said the payment was part of a large check.
Propst showed a graph that indicates that Marianas High School, the biggest high school in the CNMI, the water charge for one year is comparative to one month of water usage for Gov. Ralph DLG Torres at $16,000. “You have admitted that it is excessive. I think everybody can say it’s excessive. But why is Jack Torres who owns the piggery paying only $11,000?” Propst asked.
Gary Camacho said its’s because the $90,000 was government rate and what Jack Torres is being charged is residential and it’s the same volume.
“But it’s a different rate, therefore a different total,” he said.
Propst said Jack Torres has been responsible for paying for the piggery for the water bill all this time from February 2019 until now and the total amount is $11,000.
“That was the outstanding. Mr. Torres has been paying the monthly usage since May of 2020,” Gary Camacho said.
Gary Camacho said Jack Torres is being charged with a residential rate and not commercial because that’s what he put in his application.