By Jacob Nakamura
Under intense grilling from Congresswoman Tina Sablan, governor's special assistant Gerald Deleon Guerrero could not deny that Gov. Ralph Torres was personally involved in the award of millions of federal dollars to two companies from Guam given sole source contracts for Covid-19 products.
Mr. Deleon Guerrero was under oath, when he testified before the House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding.
"Was the governor involved in the negotiation?" Ms. Sablan asked Mr. Deleon Guerrero.
"I'm not sure," Mr. Deleon Guerrero answered. "I could not say a 'yes' or a 'no,' but the vendor requested for the governor's signature."
The vendor he was referencing is MedPharm, which according to a CARES Act direct aid vendor funding chart, was slated to receive millions on the sale of medical supplies and personal protective equipment to the Commonwealth.
The questions followed searing scrutiny from Ms. Sablan on how vendors were chosen to perform or provide millions in services and products for pandemic response. She asked whether lists existed from which officials called vendors. She asked whether price quotes were obtained from qualified vendors, if any lists existed. She also asked how CNMI government officials connected with two Guam vendors.
MedPharm, however, is not only a Guam company, but has been registered in the CNMI since 2001. The company has been in the business of selling medical supplies and equipment, aside from other business it does.
The other Guam vendor that raised curiosity from lawmakers was International Royal, which also received millions in federal funds for selling PPE to the CNMI government.
As Ms. Sablan pointed out, International Royal is a uniform and clothing shop from Guam.
"Did the governor recommend reaching out to International Royal?" Ms. Sablan asked.
"I did not talk to the governor regarding International Royal Bics," Mr. Deleon Guerrero responded. "That was a conversation with the Task Force."
"Are you aware that a significant number of the contracts that were sole sourced for this Covid-19 response went to individuals or companies that donated to the governor's campaign?" Ms. Sablan asked Mr. Deleon Guerrero.
"I had no idea," Mr. Deleon Guerrero responded.
So how did the so-called Task Force know to reach out to International Royal - a Guam company with no business in Saipan, and which hadn't sold medical supplies or PPE anywhere until the pandemic?
The only contact listing related to the Torres Palacios administration bearing any evidence of ties between International Royal and the CNMI government is a list of Guam companies and residents who had donated large sums of money to the Torres Palacios campaign in a June 2018 fundraiser on Guam.
Included on the list are International Royal, owned by Bic Sobti, and Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, whom Mr. Sobti also greatly contributed to. Ms. Leon Guerrero is described by Mr. Torres as a "personal friend." She also appointed Mr. Sobti to sit on the airport board of directors. His confirmation hearing is this week before the Guam Legislature.
Is this the case of a pay-for-play rigging of contracts? That's what the special committee is trying to find out.
And if the governor's special assistant in charge of the pandemic response can't say that his boss - the governor, who should have his hands clean of contract making with cronies - didn't negotiate contracts, then there's a problem, and the devil is in the detail.