‘JGO should stop dragging innocent gov’t employees and ask me directly’
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said yesterday that the House of Representatives Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee should bring their issues and concerns to him and stop putting other innocent government employees and their family through the hardship of being served with subpoenas to testify at the JGO hearing.
“[Instead of] dragging all these innocent, hardworking government employees, putting their families through this subpoena, and all these other stuff, come to me. I’m the principal and the one that you want to ask,” said Torres during an interview with reporters shortly after the kickoff ceremony of the Coastal Construction Training “Building Resiliency” at the Aqua Resort Club in Achugao.
The committee, which is chaired by Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan), is investigating Torres’ expenditures of public funds and travels.
As of press time yesterday, Saipan Tribune was still awaiting comments from Babauta.
When asked what triggered him to write a strongly-worded letter Monday to Babauta, the governor said he has always respected the House’s process and that he had stated it many times before that if there are issues and concerns, they should reach out to him.
“We can sit down and talk about it,” said Torres.
In his letter Monday, Torres lambasted Babauta and members of the Democratic Party for allegedly turning the JGO Committee’s investigation into an “ill-informed, ill-managed, and irresponsible political showmanship.”
The governor said yesterday that the JGO Committee would bring in “good, hardworking government employees” to the hearing and are even asked about matters that are not within their scope of work and about their opinion.
“So that’s what triggered this [letter]—to stop all these nonsense,” the governor said.
Torres pointed out that the JGO Committee has had all these information with them in the last two years and that they even have their own report about it.
“Now they’re taking it to a whole new level. And of course, you kind of see the picture why it’s being done,” he said. “So first, if there’s any wrongdoing, what is it?”
Torres said he is ready to answer in writing any questions and concerns by the JGO and that he will address it truthfully.
“I’ve said this in the beginning. You have questions, come talk to me. Let’s have this discussion and address the concerns. We may not see eye to eye with each other. You may not like the authority I have. You may not like what I purchased. But first of all, if anything, is it illegal?” the governor asked.
Torres said the answer is “no” and if they disagree with all of his purchases and believe that he did anything wrong, why did they give him another $100,000 in discretionary funds as provided by the budget law?
A discretionary account can be used for official representation such as hosting off-island dignitaries, holding public events, and other matters, Saipan Tribune learned.
Torres said he always respect the Legislature as he is a former legislator. “But the way they’re doing it, it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said the governor.
The JGO Committee is controlled by Democratic Party representatives. Torres is the titular head of the NMI Republican Party.
Asked if he is willing to testify before the JGO, Torres said if the committee decides otherwise from his request to give him the questions in writing, then they will address that issue at that moment.
On the continued “attacks” on him and his family, the governor said it’s sad that it’s not just coming from the Democratic Party as there are other entities that are involved. He did not elaborate.
To everyone who has been in the CNMI since Super Typhoon Soudelor in 2015, Torres said they should be asked if they are satisfied with the government’s recovery efforts.
“Do you feel that the government, the governor, the lieutenant governor at that time. …Do you feel that they took care of you? That they put every effort every day, day in day out to provide water?” he asked. Then when Typhoon Mangkhut came in September 2018, did people see him out there?
“You don’t change history. You go back and you reflect on it. So with me looking back at the efforts that I put into it, from Soudelor, Mangkhut, to [Super Typhoon] Yutu, was I there for the community? Did I put my hours with those officers, with those first responders, with the mayor’s office?” he asked.
Torres said everyone knows and feels in their heart that their governor was there during those times when they needed him most.
With respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor said people know in their hearts, in the community’s heart, who was in the frontline with the first responders.
“We were breaking records every day, every month. You don’t just wake up and say, ‘Okay, you know, I want to break a record today.’ You don’t. You do it in your heart. You do it under hardship, hard work and dedication, with cooperation with everyone,” he said.
Torres said he has never taken credit for anything other than giving all of their partners, the first responders and the community all the credit.
“Because this is what we are. We are one community. We will work with each other. And if we only truly work with each other, we can accomplish so much more. But instead, political bickering [is happening],” he said
The governor said he expects the Democrats to criticize him again about his letter. “But, guess what? I’m here. And we’ve got more things to do,” he said.
Pertaining to the American Rescue Plan Act funds, Torres said he gets criticized for hiring people when in fact that what ARPA is for. He said they were given $481 million in ARPA money to spend and when they spend it, the critics are not happy.
“What do you want? We’re building infrastructure. We’re doing the capacity. They’re not happy. What do you want?” Torres asked.
The governor said that, although there are positive COVID-19 cases, the CNMI is still the safest place on Earth.
He noted that looking back in May and June 2020, they have been told that the CNMI will get 6,000 to 8,000 positive COVID-19 cases, and there would be close to 400 to 500 deaths, if they don’t do anything.
“I wasn’t sleeping. I tell all the communities to stay home. My kids would cry, ‘Dad, why do you go out to the community when you tell us to stay home,’” he said.
Torres said he and his wife would tell their children that it is different on his part as he needs to be out there with the first responders.
“I have never excluded anybody in anything. I welcome everybody to come in and help, but come with a solution. I can sit here and criticize every little thing. But we’re not going to go anywhere,” he added.