Governor taps all government funds to fight Covid-19

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GOVERNOR Ralph DLG Torres on Wednesday authorized Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig to use all available CNMI government funds to meet the threat of Covid-19.

Ralph DLG Torres

The governor’s Executive Order 2020-05 allows the Finance secretary to reprogram or transfer funds from accounts of any department, agency, commission, corporation, instrumentality, and other entity of all branches of the Commonwealth government.

The governor said he has informed the Legislature that as a result of adverse impacts caused by the global Covid-19 outbreak, there has been a dramatic reduction in visitor arrivals, severely depressing economic activity and tax revenue collection.

“In view of the reduced tax revenue collection, revenue estimates have been decreased such that the total budget reduction for FY2020 is now 48%,” the governor added.

“Such a reduction in regular revenue jeopardizes the government’s ability to meet the Covid-19 threat by limiting the government’s ability to utilize all necessary personnel, facilities, and equipment due to lack of funds,” he said.

Torres said authorizing the Finance secretary to access or transfer funds from departments, agencies, offices, board, commissions, corporations or other entities, including autonomous entities, in order to fund the “whole of government” approach to the prevention and mitigation of the Covid-19 threat “is [a] reasonably necessary response in order to ensure that the government is able to meet the Covid-19 threat.”

In his latest E.O., the governor directed the Finance secretary to create a separate business account called “Covid-19 Threat Prevention and Mitigation Account” into which “all funds taken under the authority granted hereunder shall be deposited.”

The Finance secretary, the directive added, “shall maintain a strict accounting of the sources of funds deposited into the accounts and disbursements.”

The Finance secretary is also directed to coordinate with Special Assistant for Management and Budget Vicky Villagomez and other government officials.

“That is a good call,” House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan said when asked for comment about the latest E.O.

“Although there is no confirmed case in the CNMI at this time, those confirmed cases on Guam are enough reasons for our government to act decisively,” the floor leader added.

In a separate interview Rep. Ralph N. Yumul said the governor should ask the Legislature to amend the budget law.

“We have to realize that the governor’s authority only stretches within the executive branch, and he can only re-appropriate 20%, while the department heads can also do so by 10% for a total of 30% reprogramming. If he is going to go beyond that, he needs to come to the Legislature [and ask us] to allow him,” he said.

But according to Press Secretary Kevin Bautista, “Under CNMI law, during a state of major disaster or significant emergency, 1 CMC § 20144, the governor can utilize all available resources of the Commonwealth government and its political subdivisions as reasonably necessary to respond to the major disaster or a state of significant emergency.”

Bautista added, “Most especially during a declaration of a public health emergency 3 CMC § 2186., the governor can utilize all available resources of the Commonwealth government and its political subdivisions as reasonably necessary to respond to the public health emergency, which in this case, Covid-19.”

Bautista said Governor Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios “have met with both the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House for concurrence, and met with the judiciary to collectively combat this public health emergency together through a whole-of-Commonwealth approach. Tinian and Rota leadership have signed on to the governor’s public health plan and Covid-19 Task Force. Discussions have been productive. Plans, protocols, and playbooks have been finalized. We stand ready as we can be within our means to stop the spread of Covid-19 in the Marianas.”

On Wednesday, Bautista said, “the governor and lt. governor had a great meeting with members of the House and Senate from both the leadership and the minority. It’s unfortunate that Rep. Ralph Yumul wasn’t at the meeting because he would have seen what the governor’s Covid-19 Task Force has been doing to prepare the CNMI. The administration will continue to move forward in protecting the lives of our residents and eventually rebuilding our economy with our travel partners.”

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