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House resolution opposes Settlement Fund trustee’s pay hike

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REPRESENTATIVE Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero has introduced House Resolution 21-37, which “strongly opposes” the pay raise for Settlement Fund trustee Joyce C. Tang.

“This is very alarming,” Guerrero said during the House session on Tuesday. “We have done our share. We have been faithful [and] committed… We are paying Ms. Joyce Tang an arm and a leg — actually an entire body —  and it’s the retirees [who] are paying for this.”

He also questioned the purpose of having a Guam attorney as a CNMI retirement fund trustee.

Frances M. Tydingco-Gatewood, District Court for the NMI designated judge, recently approved Tang’s request to increase her rate from $250 per hour to $350 per hour, effective June 11, 2019. The judge said it was reasonable “particularly because of the Fund’s positive financial status and better than expected investment return this fiscal year.”

During the public comments portion of the session, former Rep. Mario Taitano, a retiree, expressed his support for H.R. 21-37.

But according to Rep. Tina Sablan, “I would be really wary of appearing to interject too much politics in court proceedings.”

 

Former Rep. Mario Taitano, a retiree, expressed his support for House Resolution 21-37 on Tuesday in the House chamber. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

She noted that when there was a search for a trustee, it was agreed that Tang was a viable option because she is qualified and does not have a conflict of interest — she is not a CNMI government retiree or  a family member of a CNMI government retiree.

Sablan reminded her colleagues that “this was an issue that arose years ago when this lawsuit was first filed by retirees in federal court, and at the same time, there was no local attorney here — no Saipan attorney — that did not have some kind of conflict of interest.”

She added, “Maybe [Saipan lawyers] had the qualifications, but they were conflicted…and they could not take these cases or take this case.”

She noted that Tang’s fee increase has already been approved by the federal court. Moreover, she said, some of the provisions in H.R. 21-37  are “misunderstanding of facts.”

“This isn’t just about objecting to the trustee’s fees; it’s also about proposing a rewrite of the whole settlement agreement,” she said.

She said it is the obligation of the CNMI government, “no matter what, to make sure that 75% of retirees’ pensions are paid.”

However, she said, the language of the resolution suggests that the Legislature wants to reduce the obligation of the CNMI government and put more burden on the Settlement Fund.

“I really think, colleagues, that we should tread very carefully and not rush to pass this,” she said.

“If we really want to understand this issue better and we really want to understand the work that the trustee is doing on behalf of the Settlement Fund…then we should get those records and have that information before we rush to make statements that could be seen as political interference.”

But Vice Speaker Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero said he objects “to Rep. Tina Sablan’s statement that we are putting politics in the court. I think, in my opinion, there’s no politics.”

Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero, for his part, said the resolution aims to “protect” retirees.

“There is no politics… here,” he added.

The resolution was then placed on the resolution calendar.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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