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Finance complies with lawmakers’ Open Government Act requests

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THE Department of Finance on Wednesday provided House members with the documents pertaining to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’s travel expenses and reimbursements.

The boxes of documents pertaining to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ reimbursements and travel expenses are seen on a table in the office of the House Ways and Means Committee chairman.  Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

The documents were placed in three boxes and are now in the office of House Ways and Means Chairman Ivan Blanco.

Copies will be provided to the House minority bloc members who asked for the same documents last month.

Also tasked to look into the governor’s reimbursements is the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee chaired by Rep. Joel Camacho who has recused himself from the investigation, saying that the governor — before he was governor — was Camacho’s sponsor in the Catholic sacrament of confirmation.

The documents provided by Finance included those that pertain to the travel expenses of both the governor and then-Lt. Gov. Victor Hocog from 2016 to 2019.

A reimbursement request by the Office of the Governor to Finance Secretary David Atalig, dated April 9, 2019 indicated expenses at Fiesta Resort & Spa, Hard Rock Café, Costa Restaurant, Nam Dae Moon Restaurant, Hyatt Regency Resort, Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, Kevin’s Prime Rib & Seafood, Kinpachi Restaurant, Pizza Hut, and Megabyte totaling $2,332.63.

These were for hosting Black Micro, Shell, and Taiwan Adventist Hospital representatives, CNMI senators, the CNMI rugby team, Ed Mun, Jack Manglona, John Camacho, Erin Camacho, the Skymark president, governor’s office staff meeting, and purchase of printer toner for office supplies.

The documents likewise include payment requests for the reimbursements of then-Lt. Gov. Victor Hocog’s utility bills in 2017.

“Enclosed [are] attachment receipts with corresponding amount paid on behalf of Lt. Gov. Victor B. Hocog and his wife…for their pre-paid electricity and water bills.”

For the month of June alone, the power and water bill amounted to $1,108.17.

One of the receipts indicated that the utility bills were for “residential” use.

In an interview, House minority bloc member Tina Sablan said Finance handed over the records to legislative staffers who placed the documents in boxes before bringing them to the legislative building.

Sablan said she and House Minority Leader Edwin Propst also visited the Finance secretary’s office on Wednesday morning to inspect the documents.

“We met briefly with the [Finance] secretary as well. There were a few items that Finance staffers were still tracking down. These included payroll reports for executive security officers, records related to utilities, and first-class travel records for government officials besides the governor. We expect those records to be turned over as soon as they are located,” she said.

She added that House Ways and Means Chairman Ivan Blanco will meet with the vice chairman of the Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee, Vice Speaker Larry Guerrero, to “conduct an inventory of the records received, and to compare what we have [with] what we asked for.”

She added, “The documents will be sorted and scanned and copies provided to the members and professional staff to begin review. I expect that we will also be reaching out to [the Office of the Public Auditor] for assistance.”

In a separate interview, House Minority Leader Propst said they will look into the documents to have “a better picture of the things to come.”

There are so many documents to review, he said, adding that it will be conducted through a “bipartisan approach” and will be done “objectively and fairly.”

Finance Secretary David Atalig and his staffers, Propst said, were extremely helpful. “They did an extensive work in pulling the files we requested, and my colleagues and I are very grateful to them.”

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