Were original documents also redacted?

Posted on Aug 11 2020

The House Special Committee for Fiscal Review of Executive Expenditures has hit a roadblock in its review of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ expenditure after receiving a statement from Department of Finance’s director of Administrative Services Margaret Bertha Torres that personal and confidential information were redacted from the documents that were given to the committee.

The committee will be summoning her, along with Finance Secretary David Atalig, and Office of the Governor legal counsel Gilbert J. Birnbrich to appear before the lawmakers to explain the redaction.

Rep. Tina Sablan (D-Saipan) introduced the motion to summon, which also includes other individuals who signed off and certified the governor’s reimbursements, to explain why and how original records that the lawmakers have asked for were redacted.

The special committee is currently reviewing the governor’s purchases and reimbursement requests, with the minority bloc able to count at least 17 credit cards used in the transactions, based on the documents that had been leaked on social media.

According to Sablan, and reading of Margaret Bertha Torres’ statement that she instructed Finance employees to redact all personal information from the documents, ait appears that the original documents being kept by the department were also redacted.

While it is true that agencies may redact personal or confidential information pursuant to the Open Government Act, they have to cite a specific exemption that allows them to do that and to justify the redaction of any public records, Sablan said.

She also added that there is nothing in Margaret Bertha Torres’ statement that indicates that Birnbrich advised Finance to “actually alter the original records,” and further said that when the legislative committee is doing an investigation, they can subpoena personal and confidential records, review them in executive sessions, and maintain the record’s confidentiality.

“That’s the role and that is the authority of the investigative committee. What troubles me is the fact that Finance redacted the original, so now this committee is not able to even get these original records so that we can properly do an investigation,” Sablan said.

Floor leader Rep. John Paul Sablan (R-Saipan), during the session, stressed that there needs to be a further investigation, given the redacted information.

The House special committee will be on recess until Thursday.

Iva Maurin | Author
Iva Maurin is a communications specialist with environment and community outreach experience in the Philippines and in California. She has a background in graphic arts and is the Saipan Tribune’s community and environment reporter. Contact her at iva_maurin@saipantribune.com
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