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‘We begin our work to seek the truth’

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“TODAY, members, we begin our work to seek the truth, the facts, whether right or wrong,” Rep. Ralph N. Yumul said on Monday morning during the organizational meeting of the newly created bipartisan House Special Committee on Fiscal Review of Executive Expenditures, which he chairs.

“We are a small group,” he added, I believe a diverse group…. What we share in common is basically the love of our family, our community, and also serving our people of the CNMI.”

The special committee is investigating the expenditures of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, including, but not limited to, first-class travel, official representation, reimbursements, personal security detail and utilities.

House Minority Leader Edwin K. Propst said, in creating the panel, Speaker BJ Attao “ensured fairness by putting together a bipartisan committee comprised of four members from the leadership and four members of the minority. I have full confidence that we will be able to work together, to be fair [and] to be transparent throughout our investigation.”

Propst said “despite the barrage of attacks coming from the administration and the press secretary who called this special committee a ‘witch-hunting expedition more than a fact-finding’ expedition, the feeble attempts to discredit, distract, and dissuade us from doing our jobs will simply not work. At the end of the day, the press secretary is beholden to the governor. However, we are beholden to the people.”

Rep. Christina M. Sablan, another minority bloc member, said: “This inquiry must be conducted fairly, diligently, and transparently. The people we serve are watching what we do. Let’s be frank; we will all be subject to criticism as we move forward in this investigation. My hope is that we remain, throughout this process, firmly committed to civility, professionalism, and doing our work in good faith, keeping the oath that we took, and the constitutional responsibility that we have always at the forefront of our minds. We will find the answers and the accountability that we seek and that our people deserve.”

 

The House Special Committee on Fiscal Review of Executive Expenditures convenes for an organizational meeting Monday in the House chamber. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

She wants the committee to issue a subpoena to the Department of Finance for the remaining documents that, she said, it has not provided lawmakers in the past seven months, as well as for records pertaining to the “Deer Meat for Dinner” Northern Islands project.

Vice Speaker Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero expressed concern for the redaction of some pertinent documents provided by the Department of Finance, saying that such redactions should be justified.

Propst said when the same documents were requested by a citizen, the information was not redacted. However, when the House received copies of the documents, certain information was redacted, he added.

Propst and Sablan said they have counted at least 17 different credit cards funded by taxpayers’ money.

Sablan said they should also issue subpoenas to the Marianas Visitors Authority, the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, the Department of Public Safety, the Office of the Mayor of the Northern Islands, and the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, as well as any and all other departments or agencies that were involved in the Northern Islands project.

Moreover, she said, the committee should look into the governor’s involvement with the Imperial Pacific International community benefit fund, and that IPI itself should be subpoenaed regarding the community benefit fund records.

For his part, House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan said ample time is needed to review the report of the minority bloc regarding the governor’s expenditures.

The special committee chairman, Rep. Ralph N. Yumul, agreed.

The other members of the committee are Reps LJ Castro, Donald M. Manglona and  Edmund S. Villagomez.

Villagomez and Manglona were absent, but representatives from the Office of the Public Auditor were in the House gallery during the committee meeting.

 

 

 

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