By Troy Torres
(Susupe, Saipan) Congresswoman Tina Sablan, who began the call for an inquiry into public corruption by Gov. Ralph Torres weeks ago, today made an impassioned plea for her colleagues in the CNMI House of Representatives. Her message: the Legislature must do its duty and investigate mounting evidence of corruption.
Ms. Sablan and the House minority bloc issued an official call for Speaker BJ Attao to form a special investigative committee to look into evidence of corruption by the governor. Mr. Attao said he will be issuing a ruling on the matter soon. Minority Leader Ed Propst raised the official request toward the beginning of Tuesday's session.
Mr. Propst fought fiercely for the House to do its duty and to respect the wishes of the Commonwealth's residents, many of whom are expressing anger and betrayal since revelations of the governor's plunder of the Commonwealth.
Ms. Sablan followed his issuance of the official statement with the following speech:
Mr. Speaker and Colleagues:
The Minority is calling for the appointment of a Special Committee to investigate Governor Torres because we are facing matters of grave and constitutional urgency.
The governor and his associates are subjects of a federal criminal investigation involving money laundering, fraud, and illegal campaign contributions.
And now we have records documenting the governor’s illegal first-class travel and extravagant expenses paid by the people of the Commonwealth. Today, the Minority is also filing an Open Government Act request seeking all records relevant to his travel, official representation, housing allowances, executive security, chauffeuring services, and reimbursements, including the policies that determine whether or not the people of the Commonwealth should be paying for all of this.
The governor is accused of betraying the people’s trust. If we do nothing, Mr. Speaker and colleagues, we will also be complicit in betrayal.
Of course we all respect the criminal, legal process now underway. But we must also respect the public office we hold, and our own process for conducting legislative investigations and holding the governor accountable.
A formal inquiry is our process. And we should expect the governor to respect that process as well, to fully cooperate with our investigations, and to answer to this body for his actions.
This week we celebrate CNMI Constitution Day. On this occasion, we honor the wisdom of our founders who established a system of government in the Marianas that is based on checks and balances among three co-equal branches of government.
In the words of retired Chief Justice Jose Dela Cruz, “CNMI self-government will only be as good as the individuals we elect into public office.” When there are breaches of the constitution or the laws of the commonwealth committed by public officials in one branch of government, our democracy depends on the other branches to provide accountability and restore balance.
Let’s do our jobs. Establish the special committee. Begin the inquiry. Empower the committee to do its work professionally, objectively, and fairly, and report back to this body on its findings and recommendations for action.
Mr. Speaker and colleagues, we are facing a critical dilemma in this legislature. And the question is, which side of history will we choose to be on? Let’s choose the side of the people we were elected to serve.
Mr. Torres did not avail of any interviews today. Instead, he released a statement in which he ignored the specific allegations raised by the minority, and again complained that everyone is out to get him because he won the election.
Not once in the governor's statement did he say he is innocent of all allegations and that he didn't misuse public money.
You may see the governor's statement below: