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House panel to call in agency heads to testify

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THE House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding convened on Tuesday to discuss the next steps in reviewing the documents provided by the governor’s authorized representative or GAR Patrick Guerrero.

The documents include many pages of payroll records, Category B forms, listing of check registry, and government contracts.

Rep. Ralph Yumul, who chairs the special committee, said they are still waiting for more documents from the GAR, including payroll records from the 12th and 13th government pay periods.

“This is a good start. Having all of this information is going to help us in carrying out objectives as members of the committee,” said Rep. Luis John Castro.

A central question that the committee is looking into is where the funds for payroll are coming from exactly. The panel is also seeking clarity on which specific federal Covid-19 funding is being utilized for which specific purposes, and confirming whether or not local funds have been used or are being used.

From left, Rep. Tina Sablan, House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan, Rep. Joseph Leepan Guerrero, back to the camera, Rep. Ralph Yumul, and Rep. Luis John Castro meet on Tuesday. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

The special committee aims to, among a number of other concerns, have a clearer understanding of how all payments during the Covid-19 pandemic have been made or are being made, and whether or not each payment is  justified and legal. This includes cabinet members signing off on their own overtime exemption documentation, along with approval by the administration.

“We have the statements of multiple administration officials, including the secretary of Finance and the GAR who came here to our chambers and told us point blank that cabinet members are not getting overtime. Now that we see the records, we see that they are getting paid. Their check stubs are marked overtime. Whatever we call it, it seems like there has been some dishonesty,” said Rep. Tina Sablan.

She added, “When we call in administration officials in good faith, when we are just trying to afford some transparency and accountability to these funds, we are not getting straight answers. I think that that is more than enough basis for oversight.”

She said the justification that was provided by cabinet members for their overtime “sounds a lot like their regular job.”

Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao, for his part, encouraged the committee to look into new hires as well, noting that there have been new hires who were furloughed and are filling up positions that became vacant after the employees who formerly filled those roles were also furloughed.

“That’s the unfortunate thing because those people that were furloughed in those specific departments, it’s like saying that they’re not worth the position they were furloughed for,” he added.

“I understand that the rules and regulations of the Civil Service Commission…allows them to do all of these things, but we also have existing statutes, and there’s one thing that rules and regulations cannot do: they cannot supersede existing statutes.”

On Tuesday, the special committee has agreed to call in the GAR, as well as officials from the Civil Service Commission, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Finance, the Department of Public Lands, and the Office of Personnel Management for “further clarification.”

All five members of the special committee were present for Tuesday’s discussions. Joining them were Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao, Vice Speaker Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero, Rep. Roman Benavente, Rep. Joel Camacho and House legal counsel Joe Taijeron.

The special committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on July 1.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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