Why I voted no to HB 20-165

As a public servant leader, I am obligated to share with you my reasons for voting against bills. I can assure you, it is much easier to “go with the flow” and to vote with everyone else on politically popular issues, but I made a pledge to our people that I would always vote my conscience and have remained consistent with that commitment since I first took office. Please allow me to present to you my concerns with House Bill 20-165, a bill which appropriated $1.3 million to Docomo and $7 million to the Judiciary, and why I voted no.

On Friday afternoon on May 4, I had a meeting in my office with three of Docomo’s executives. I am grateful for president/CEO Jonathan Kriegel, vice president/general manager Dino Manning, and Docomo ATISA project manager Liezl Balan for taking time out of their busy schedules to address my concerns with regard to the CNMI government’s payment to Docomo. By the end of our productive meeting, they had understood my concerns, particularly with the fact that the memorandum of understanding between Gov. Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres and Docomo officials was a non-binding contract; that the MOU itself did not list any financial obligations or amount owed to Docomo by the CNMI government; that even if the MOU were to be considered a contract, it lacked the signature from the CNMI’s attorney general, the chief legal officer “representing the Commonwealth in all legal matters” as prescribed in CNMI Constitution Article III Section 11; and that a formal contract is necessary to effectuate the terms and expectations between Docomo and the CNMI government. Mr. Kriegel was gracious enough to agree to draft up a formal contract and was willing to include the attorney general’s signature on it.

On Friday, May 11, during our deliberation on H.B. 20-165, I had informed my colleagues of my meeting with Docomo officials and that the CEO was willing to draft a contract which would alleviate much of the legal concerns I raised. I requested we hold off on passing H.B. 20-165 for at least a week so that we could allow Docomo to draft a formal contract and ensure that the attorney general’s signature be included along with Gov. Torres and Docomo officials. I had also requested that we call upon the attorney general to weigh in on this matter. There seemed to be no sense of immediate urgency to appropriate the $1.3 million to Docomo. By making a $1.3 million payment to a private company with no formal contract or terms set in place, how can we ensure that we will not be required to make future payments? Without a formal contract, there can be no absolute certainty. The fact is, MOUs do not include the level of detail required to resolve misunderstandings should they arise, and this particular MOU failed to list the CNMI government’s $3 million “pledge,” or subsidy. When the CNMI government makes a payment to a for-profit corporation that is competing against another company, we must be careful that we do not tip the scale or offer one company an unfair advantage over another. We also must ensure that we have the necessary documents to justify payments to a for-profit corporation and identity the receivables or benefits to our taxpayers.

Perhaps a more difficult decision to vote no was for our Judiciary. As you are well aware, the Judiciary courthouse building known as the Guma’ Hustisia has been shut down for two months because of mold and an old, outmoded air-conditioning system that is in dire need of replacement. We know this is a priority and that we must move swiftly, but my concern was that the $7 million appropriation seemed to be an unreasonably large amount with regard to the air-conditioning units. All I asked was for one week so that we could get additional quotes or assessments to make a more accurate appropriation amount. I was concerned that if we went ahead and appropriated $7 million, then we have set a very high ceiling for which bidders in the forthcoming RFP will be aware of, and of course, the proposals will be much higher than had we practiced due diligence and arrived at a more accurate amount.

Please know that I am not an engineer, nor am I an air-conditioning expert, but neither are my colleagues, or anyone in the Judiciary for that matter. I believe this is all the more reason why we should have done our due diligence and worked on getting a more accurate assessment.

While I am no expert, I do know that the Guma’ Hustisia is 69,000 square feet, based on what the Guma’ Hustisia superintendent told me. I also know of two large businesses that are twice the square footage of the Guma’ Hustisia, and both of them purchased state-of-the-art, energy efficient air-conditioning systems for under $1 million, and that included installation. Granted, the Guma’ Hustisia may cost more because of the need for mold remediation, but will it cost seven times what two private companies paid, most especially when they are much larger than the Guma’ Hustisia? I asked for one week so we could answer these questions and get the best assessment possible so that we could utilize any leftover appropriations for other pressing obligations, whether that be land compensation, or medical referral, or to our police officers and firefighters and other first responders who still do not receive hazard pay despite their hazardous and dangerous jobs that put life and limb on the line every day.

Some critics of mine have accused me of not caring about the people of Tinian and Rota and not caring about our Judiciary and their staff working at the Guma’ Hustisia. That is simply not true. I care for all of our people, but I also care about ensuring your taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and efficiently.

Thank you for your time and please feel free to email me at rep.propste@cnmileg.gov.mp or call my office at 664-8829 should you have any questions or concerns.

Edwin K. Propst Author

Related Posts

Disclaimer: Comments are moderated. They will not appear immediately or even on the same day. Comments should be related to the topic. Off-topic comments would be deleted. Profanities are not allowed. Comments that are potentially libelous, inflammatory, or slanderous would be deleted.