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Finance says $2,500 ‘reasonable’ allowance for Saipan lawmakers

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AFTER a “careful review” of the CNMI Constitution, the Department of Finance informed the Legislature that its members “shall receive a reasonable allowance provided by law,” and “an amount not more than $2,500 per month is a reasonable amount.”

Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig told Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao and Senate President Victor B. Hocog that his department reviewed the issue as requested by then-Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson before she left office in 2018.

The House adopted House Resolution 21-4 in March 2019, allowing members to draw down up to $5,000 from their office allocations “to defray the cost of food, lodging, and other incidental expenses related to community events and activities and other expenses incurred by reason of attending to legislative business in any senatorial district and outside the Commonwealth.”

Senate Resolution 21-1, for its part, allows each senator to receive up to $5,000 monthly allowance for the same purpose.

In his letter to Hocog and Attao, the Finance secretary cited Section 10, Article 2  of the CNMI Constitution, which states that “members of the legislature shall receive an annual salary of eight thousand dollars and reasonable allowances for expenses provided by law. The salary of members may be changed no more than once every four years and only upon the recommendation of an advisory commission established by law to make recommendations concerning the compensation of Commonwealth executive, legislative and judicial officers. No change in the salary may be made that exceeds the percentage change in an accepted composite price index for the period since the last change.”

Atalig also cited Section 16, which states: “No part of the appropriations for the legislature or the legislative bureau, other than a member's salary, may be used for personal or political activities.”

He told Hocog and Attao that these constitutional provisions “restrain the legislators’ use of allowances in several ways.”

“First,” he said, “any allowance must be ‘provided by’ law. Second, any allowance must be ‘reasonable.’ Third, the allowance not being part of a legislator’s salary, cannot be used for ‘private or political activity.’”

He said Finance used the calculation of the Composite Price Index as of December 2018 of the $8,000 maximum amount set by Public Law 1-3, which would suggest that an amount of no more than $2,500 per month is a reasonable amount.

For the legislators from Tinian and Rota, he said a $5,000 a month allowance “seems reasonable” for their travel and lodging expenses.

Atalig reminded lawmakers that it is his duty to manage public funds properly. 

“Lastly,” he said, “the Department of Finance is forbidden from disbursing funds for private and political activity. In turn, the Department of Finance is required to demand full documentation justifying a legislator’s expenditures.”

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