Commonwealth Utilities Corp. executive director Gary P. Camacho described in his testimony before the House of Representatives Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee yesterday that the power and water billings at Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ residence in As Teo appears to be excessive.
Citing CUC’s power and water billings in the total amount of $177,278, JGO chair Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) asked Camacho if the amount is above average. Camacho replied, “Yes, very much.”
The JGO is looking into Torres’ expenditures of public funds and travels.
In her closing statement after Camacho’s testimony, Babauta said it is clear, based on the exhibit presented yesterday, that CNMI taxpayers were paying for at least three CUC accounts at the private residence of Torres, his wife, Diann, and the private residence of his sister, Judy Marie Torres in Koblerville.
These were “undoubtedly established” in Camacho’s testimony, Babauta said, together with copies of the billings of the private residence of the Torres couple.
She said records also reflect that CNMI taxpayers paid for overlapping periods on these accounts, including the period right after Super Typhoon Yutu, when the entire island was without power.
Babauta noted that the records reflect that the account number registered in the name of Judy Marie Torres was paid total amount of $36,069 by the CNMI government for power usage for the period of January 2015 to September 2018.
However, she said, during the period of January 2018 to September 2018, records reflect that an account number registered in the name of Torres was also paid by the government.
Babauta said that, according to their exhibit, which is a work order from CUC, this meter number supplies utilities to a piggery, garage, and the outside kitchen on the governor’s property.
Babauta said on Sept. 8, 2020, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. utilities were disconnected, putting patients’ lives at risk. Yet during this same time period, Torres continued to rack up thousands of dollars in monthly utility bills on at least three utility accounts, has been in arrears, and was given preferential treatment and was never disconnected, even as his utility bill reached as high as $119,000, based on the records they have received from CUC, she said.
Babauta said that, based on Camacho’s testimony, she finds it highly suspicious that adjustments are being made after the subpoena was issued last month. She said adjustments include an $11,000 transfer to the governor’s brother, Joaquin Torres, and a $90,000 adjustment recently made that had no other justification than a determination by CUC management, nothing more.
The JGO hearing will continue tomorrow, Wednesday, at 10:30am, with Boating Safety official Kevin Aldan as the witness.
Citing, CUC records, Rep. Vicente Camacho (D-Saipan) said that between January 2015 and August 2021, Torres’ total CUC billings for his three accounts at his As Teo residence, plus the governor’s sister account in Koblerville, totaled $177,278. When he asked Gary Camacho if the amount seems excessive, the CUC chief replied that he would not want to speculate too much on how people live their lives and what they do in their homes but, seen against average billings. “obviously it ventures further away…”
In response to Rep. Edwin K. Propst’s (D-Saipan) questions, Gary Camacho said the governor made a few late payments.
Gary Camacho said he’s not sure if Torres was given any disconnection notice, but based on their records, there was none.
“Why does the governor have preferential treatment over our residences, many of whom have been just a day late and have had their power disconnected and had to pay the reconnection? What can we say to our ratepayers who have been disconnected while the governor has not paid several months and was never disconnected?” Propst asked.
Gary Camacho said that is not a CUC policy and that if there is any issue with that., then he is going to look into it.
When asked on who makes the determination not to disconnect the government, Gary Camacho said it depends on the communication and the commitment from the Department of Finance.
Camacho said if payments from Finance and those communications are with them and they are going to tell CUC that payment will on its way, or will be dealt very quickly, then he will make the decision and wait for that payment, even if it’s several months late.
“If I may respond with all due respect to each and every one of you, many of the government agencies are behind. Many of them. This building, from my understanding, is behind on its payments,” Camacho said.
He said most government agencies are behind on their payments and that he does not disconnect them. “I don’t disconnect for the very reason that it’s a government. That government needs to operate,” he said.
Propst pointed out that Torres’ house is not a government property. “And that’s why…it hurts me and anyone listening to this. If we’re going to compare, the governor’s private property is million-dollar property in As Teo that’s somehow is [treated] like a government entity. It is not, sir,” Propst said.
Camacho also stated that based on his experience and knowledge as executive director, he would imagine that the average electric and water consumption per month for a household in the CNMI is around $700 to $800. Camacho said he would imagine that the average water consumption per household in the CNMI is around 15,000 gallons or 16,000 gallons.
Propst showed a sample of Torres’ CUC bill account in the total amount of $16,949, which covered March 20, 2019 to April 18, 2019. Camacho said the total electric charge for this month, according to the bill, is $1,619 and the total water charges is $15,309. Camacho said the total number of kilowatt hours used at Torres’ residence, at least for this one payment, is 5,004 kilowatt hours. He said the total gallons of water consumed for this one month was 263,679 gallons.
Propst said this is one of a series of billings in the governor’s records with extremely high volumes of water usage. “Do you know why the governor uses so much water?” Propst asked. Camacho said he does not know.
Propst asked is it possible for CUC to combine usage charges from multiple meters into a single account for billing purposes.
In response to Rep. Vicente Camacho’s (D-Saipan) questions, Gary Camacho said when they bill Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, they bill everybody and channel it through the Department of Finance. He said like any other government agency, they collect the billing, calculate it and send it to Finance for Finance to make the required payments.
Vicente Camacho said they reviewed the governor’s utility bills from the year 2015 through 2021, which CUC submitted to the committee pursuant to a subpoena.
Vicente Camacho said that, according to the records, in addition to the Koblerville account that was under Judy Torres name, the governor subsequently had at least three meter accounts associated with his As Teo property: one for the main residence, one for outside kitchen, a piggery, and a garage, and one for the guard house.
Vicente Camacho said the record seems to show that CNMI taxpayers paid for the governor’s bills in multiple locations and at times for the same period. “In other words, CNMI taxpayers paid for more than one residential account at the same time,” the lawmaker said.
Celina Babauta asked how many accounts are under the governor’s name utility accounts. Gary Camacho said two or three accounts. He said not all of these accounts are charged at government rate.
Vicente Camacho asked whether the governor’s payment of utilities in such large amounts of cash does not raise a red flag. Gary Camacho said it is unusual but is not uncommon.
“Well, there are a number of customers that do come in with large amounts of money. Again, I’m dumbfounded that, surprised that people would take large amounts with them to go to make payments,” Gary Camacho said.