Updated: Dec 10, 2019
By Nancy I. Maanao
(Tumon, Guam) Gov. Ralph Torres and his wife, Diann, were scheduled to fly to Kona, Hawaii on December 9, 2018, for a junket with the Western Governors Association. The first class airline seats from Saipan to Guam to Honolulu and back cost the Commonwealth's taxpayers $12,278.50.
Travel documents leaked to Kandit News, however, reveal that while on another trip in Japan on December 4, 2018, Mr. and Ms. Torres had their itinerary changed to divert to Washington, D.C., doubling the cost taxpayers forked out for their first class travel and luxurious hotel and car accommodations.
The total pricetag, including the penalties for the last-minute change that was not authorized until after the trip happened?: $25,653.33!
The gubernatorial couple each flew 16 separate times throughout that trip on premium class fare - first class on the bigger planes, and business class on the planes that didn't have first class seats. Under CNMI law, this is illegal; the Torres's and anyone who was involved in authorizing their travel and reimbursements for their expenses are liable to the CNMI taxpayers for $32,000 in fines.
The authorizing official? Lt. Governor Arnold Palacios. And while the travel authorizations bear the printed name of director of finance and accounting Bernadita Palacios, the signature above her name belongs to Secretary of Finace David Atalig.
The first family's pre-Christmas tour took them from Haneda to Chicago, Washington, D.C, San Francisco, Honolulu, Kona, Guam and then back to Saipan by December 15.
During the trip, they stayed at the Fairmont Orchid Hotel in Kona, the Ala Moana Hotel in Waikiki, the five-star Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, and the Hotel Santa Fe in Guam.
The couple received a daily $250 in per diem from the taxpayers, which means that Gov. Torres received $125 per day and his wife - a non-elected citizen who is not even a government employee - also received a $125 per diem (each day).
Their hotel accommodations were paid separately, as was the $829.83 spent for their car rental and valet parking services. In addition, they were paid a $1551.31 travel advance, and were reimbursed $1,391.97 in overages from fine dining, Macy's shopping, alcohol purchases, and other personal expenses conducted during the travel period.
The travel authorization amendment was submitted and approved by Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios this year in March, just as the governor began a propaganda campaign to implement his austerity program that had threatened the jobs of 524 CNMI government employees.