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Sen. Sablan proposes override of governor’s veto of OMB bill

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SENATOR Vinnie Sablan favors an override of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ veto of Senate Bill 21-33, which proposed to transfer the Office of Management and Budget to the Department of Finance.

He said the intent of S.B. 21-33, which he introduced, is not to abolish OMB, but “simply aims to restructure the financial operations of the CNMI government so it is streamlined for more efficiency.”

The measure was unanimously passed by the Senate and the House in March, but the governor vetoed it on May 30, 2020.

In his veto message, the governor said OMB was established “to carry out what is arguably the most critical function of the executive branch and the most principal of the governor’s duties and responsibilities.”

OMB, he said, “plays a significant role in my ability as governor to effectively plan and implement the priorities of the executive branch.”

In his remarks during the session on Friday, Sablan said the governor’s veto message deserves a statement “and I am elated to take this opportunity to do just that.”

Sen. Vinnie Sablan, center, reads his statement in response to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ veto of Senate Bill 21-33 on Friday. Also in photo are Senate President Victor Hocog, Senate Clerk Doris Bermudes, Senate legal counsel Antoinette Villagomez, Sens. Frank Cruz, Paul Manglona and Sixto Igisomar. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

He said “the driving force” behind S.B. 21-33 was the “obvious continuous disparities” between OMB and the Finance department in regards to sharing of information, budgetary numbers and the actual financial management and operations of fiscal affairs of the CNMI. “This has been evident for all of us in the Legislature as many if not all of us struggled with the formulas and calculations, or the gathering of account information when needed,” Sablan said.

Sablan said OMB should be placed under the guidance of the secretary of Finance “for more consistency.”

He said “since the inception of our government, OMB had always been under the direction of the head of the Finance department. However, it was through an executive order that separated them and placed them directly under the governor's office.  During the governor's fiscal management summit, the idea of restructuring our government's functions and agencies was identified to be one of the top priorities to enable the government to function more efficiently, especially during this crucial time of the pandemic that we are facing.  Senate Bill 21-33 is a step in that direction, which was supported during the summit.”

Sablan said, “The democratic process of the Senate acting on the governor's nominations to fill the most critical positions in the government through the advice and consent decree places full responsibility on a nominee upon confirmation. This is to ensure that they fulfill their duties under oath in the cabinet position the individual is nominated for. Therefore, it is of great intendment that the secretary of Finance (who took the oath to perform his duties) has full authority in carrying out the financial operations, management and matters for the common good of the CNMI Government and its people.”

Sablan also quoted Attorney General Edward Manibusan as saying that S.B. 21-33 “does not present any constitutional issue.”

“With that said, I beg to ask the question, do the duties of the special assistant for OMB stated in the governor’s veto message overreach in the constitutional mandate of the secretary of Finance stated in Title 1, Division 2 § 2553? The secretary of Finance’s duties are to conduct all related financial management activities in the CNMI and the OMB shall be charged with preparation of a budget, not to perform financial management activities of the CNMI.  The Constitution clearly states that it is the sole function of the secretary of Finance,” the senator said.

According to the CNMI Constitution, “A bill or an item, section, or part of a bill vetoed by the governor may be reconsidered by the legislature. The legislature shall have sixty days from the receipt of the governor's veto message in the house of origin of the vetoed bill, item, section or part of a bill to reconsider the vetoed legislation. If two-thirds of the members in each house vote upon reconsideration to pass the bill, item, section or part, it shall become law.”

The House of Representatives has 20 members while the Senate has nine.

Sablan is confident that his colleagues will support an override, adding that his bill was unanimously passed by both houses.

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