By Johnnie Rosario
Members of the CNMI House of Representatives, worried about Gov. Ralph Torres's cronyism and corruption, want to take away his ability to unilaterally spend about half-a-billion dollars in federal funds about to hit the CNMI treasury.
The funds are the result of Congressman Gregorio "Kilili" Sablan's efforts to include the Commonwealth in direct aid funding to the government under the American Rescue Plan Act, or the third federal stimulus package.
Similarly, the government of Guam will be receiving nearly $700 million of this type of funding, thanks to Guam Congressman Michael San Nicolas's efforts. Republican members of the Guam Legislature have expressed their worry the Democrat governor, Lou Leon Guerrero, will squander the money on cronies through contracts.
Ralph Torres is a Republican; the majority party in the CNMI House is Democrat.
The ARP Act states governors throughout the nation may dispose of the direct aid following their certification to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury of certain conditions met. This means the governors will not have to have the federal money appropriated by their respective legislatures. They will be able to treat the cash they get as federal grants.
While Guam's Republican caucus has raised caution via correspondence, the Commonwealth's Democrats have devised a way to prevent Mr. Torres from making unilateral spending decisions.
House BIll No. 22-33, introduced March 10 by Rep. Donald Manglona (D-Rota), will prohibit the governor from sending certification to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury unless the certification he provides is approved jointly by the CNMI House and Senate.
If it becomes law and Mr. Torres follows the law, he will be forced to disclose to the Commonwealth Legislature the purposes for the spending he intends to justify his certification to the Treasury Department. CNMI legislators then will be able to scrutinize the details of how the governor will spend that money, including his plans to hire employees, contract services, let out bids for products and supplies, etc.
The Republican members of the CNMI House have already voiced their opposition to the measure.