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Finance chief: ‘We’ve done our due diligence’

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DURING a press briefing on KKMP radio Wednesday morning, Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios and Secretary of Finance David Atalig commented on the ongoing review of payroll records of government employees and officials as relate to the current Covid-19 disaster.

The review is being conducted by the House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding.

“There are issues that need to be clarified [involving] the Federal Labor Standards Act, as well as the exemption of some of these exempted employees that were paid overtime that was issued by and approved by [the Office of Personnel Management] at the time,” Palacios said. “There were processes that were followed. Whether or not those processes will hold water is still a question.”

He added, “As far as the [Covid-19 payments are concerned], I was assured by the secretary of Finance that no overtime pay has been paid. We’re trying our best, and we’re very hopeful that we can address [the pandemic] and begin our economic recovery sooner rather than later.”

Atalig, for his part, said, “I’m confident that we’ve done our due diligence. I’m confident that we’ve done procurement based on the emergency regulations. I stand firm that those contracts and payments that we’ve done for the Covid-19 mitigation here in our islands are all within procurement rules and regulations.”

Atalig said he communicates “regularly with our attorney general to ensure that before we do some contracts or when we have had a contract done, he’s aware and has all of the facts so that he can verify all of these contracts.”

He said he himself has not received any overtime or supplement pay during the pandemic.

“As [the documents] we submitted to the special committee  that’s reviewing Covid-19 expenditures [show], all workers, including cabinet members, signed a Category B form, a required form from [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] in order to get reimbursement from FEMA,” Atalig said.

“On top of that, a personnel action needs to be processed and approved by OPM and obviously, through the process in order for us at [the Department of Finance] to make any payments. Cabinet members and some directors were paid additional time… No cabinet members received the 1.5, or as people are alluding to as things were done in Yutu, 2.5. Nothing was paid. We only paid straight time, most of the time, after they’ve worked over 80 hours,” Atalig said.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres is currently off-island on official business, and will return to Saipan in seven to 10 days.

According to Press Secretary Kevin Bautista, “The governor announced last week that he will be joining Robert Arrington, host of the widely popular ‘Deer Meat for Dinner’ YouTube channel and his film crew for a promotional expedition in the Northern Islands. Weather conditions going up to the Northern Islands play a significant factor in the time spent going up there. The CNMI is 14 islands strong, and the Northern Islands have long been both an environmental and cultural priority of Governor Torres and his administration. The purpose of the trip is to promote the Marianas as a world-class destination that holds some of the most unique environments and cultures in the world to both existing and new source markets for tourism. The Governor is being proactive with promoting the Marianas to a diverse tourism market, and he continues to provide solutions to strengthen the viability and reputation of the Marianas as a world-class destination. ‘Deer Meat for Dinner’ has a dedicated following of over 2.3 million subscribers from around the U.S. mainland and around the world on YouTube. The trip will bring a lot of exciting stories and content for people who do not fully know what the Marianas is.”

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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