Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Saipan-A Blogger's Paradise!

Saipan is an interesting place to live. It is also a blogger's paradise! Lots to chat about in today's news.

You can read a good blog post at Ken's SOS site on Fitial's plan to take over DPH by declaration of a state of emergency. And Doctor Cornett's very small hammer rant(they're still not getting it) at the Tribune.

Fitial extends the state of emergency at CUC. He's had the state of emergency in effect since May 2008--that's 1 year and 4 months already.

This new emergency declaration seems to contradict earlier reports.

When the Aggreko generators were turned off, we were told CHC was in much better shape, that CUC's power generation could definitely replace what Aggreko had provided.

The Saipan Tribune reported, on September 1, 2009, as follows:

“Today, we can safely pronounce that the Saipan power production crisis is over,” Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said in a brief ceremony in the main control room of CUC's power plant in Lower Base yesterday.

And the entire reason for the state of emergency declaration in the first place was all about that power generation issue, wasn't it? Well, that was the original excuse, but in August 2009 Fitial said it's also about hiring adequate personnel.

Of course, CUC needs to hire adequate personnel. What or who is adequate personnel? The Legislature is trying to wean the CNMI government from its dependence on cheap foreign labor; and Fitial is addicted to cheap foreign labor.

So because he disagrees with the CNMI Legislature's policies and decisions for the CNMI (which limit how many foreign workers an agency or department may have), he declares a state of emergency at CUC?

We are all captives. Fitial is determined to prove that we need our fix; we have a right to cheap, foreign workers who are underpaid and get no permanent rights and are kept forever powerless. And we're all going to suffer power black-outs and worse if we don't buy into Fitial's view of the situation.

I have no problem with hiring technicians from foreign countries; I just think we need to pay them on scale with what we would pay for local/US hires. And then maybe there will be a greater incentive, a real incentive for our residents to enter the workforce, get skills, and do the work. And we'll be treating our foreign work force with the respect they deserve.

In the meantime, we're still in a state of emergency-which is to say that Governor Fitial refuses to follow the procurement laws, the hiring laws, and whatever laws the CNMI Legislature passes. First CUC, next CHC. Those "states of emergency" are convenient for grabbing power, neh?

Then there's the bit about how the OPA has referred cases for more than $2.6 million dollars in misspent tax money for collection to the AG's Office.

1. $739,346 from Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission to UNNAMED CONSULTANT. (Why the hell don't we name names?)

2. $195,971 from Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission to "3 other individuals". (Why the hell don't we name names?)

3. $392,178 from Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission to ??? themselves??? for questionable travel expenses in 1996 to 2001.

Perhaps it should be called the Tinian Casino Gaming No-Control Commission?

4. $1.3 million from CNMI to "different professional service contractors." (Why don't we name names?)

5. $100,000 improper payments from CNMI??? to "a surveying contractor on Tinian." (Why don't we name names?)

6. $75,000 misused by former Finance Secretary (1995-1997). (Who was that?)

7. $$$ double payments from (now defunct) MPLA to "officials of...MPLA" for per diem, etc. 1992-1994.

8. $40,000 misspent by CPA.

9. $$$ unspecified overpayments to former officials of CUC.

NEARLY ALL of these are past the statute of limitations. The AG has said so specifically about #8 and #9. But the same can be said for #3, #6 and #7. So now we have to ask, when were these violations of law first reported to the Attorney General's Office? Why does the AG not proceed with diligent action (or are they always getting the cases too late to recover the funds)?

Why does it take so long for the OPA to find these misappropriations and misspent accounts?

And why aren't we at least identifying who is behind the problem at each instance, so we have names? And why do we want casinos when the Tinian Gaming Commission is one of the biggest drains on our limited tax resources?

Patrick Calvo
Found guilty on charges of sex abuse of a minor. His defense was that his 14 year old daughter was lying. This might work in some cases, but she's been a model student and otherwise fine person, and his other daughters came forward and testified against him also. For those victims from the earlier 2000 case who did not see justice when the case against Calvo was dismissed, this must be a small victory, too.

This is, after all, SaipanWriter! Walt Goodridge held a writer's workshop on Sunday, September 27, 2009.

Joe (Mango) Race brought up National Novel Writing Month! Yay! Interested in spending a month noveling? It's happening here in Saipan, as around the world, thanks to NaNoWriMo. Sign up. We write in November. (I'm the municipal liaison. If you need more information, contact me.)

And then there's Swine Flu in Yap
It must be bad, because the schools have now closed for 3 weeks.

But what's not in the news? the Philippine disaster-typhoon Ketsana. Thanks to Wendy for highlighting this story for the past 2 days.

And my own little off-topic "flashback" contribution:
I just found this bit about George W. Bush's favorite painting. This is such a laugh! As Art Blogger Bob says--narcissistic and stupid.


captain said...

You basically said it all and ask the same questions that I was thinking while reading the articles.
It is a great possibility that many, if not all of the individuals that were involved in these different fund shortages are presently working in this administration or one of the agencies as a political hire.
That is a good article and leaves a lot open for a later time.

Saipan Writer said...

We could use some more aggressive reporting by our local newspapers. This information isn't secret. Well, I don't think it is--but even then an Open Government Act request might be a means of getting the information.

I also realize that sometimes OPA finds problems that are more paperwork than performance issues. This is especially true on the travel documentation, which goes missing a lot of the times, and not always by the traveler (sometimes after the appropriate paperwork has been turned in!). So the travel could have been done actually at the stated price and for the stated purpose and with a real benefit to the CNMI, and OPA will still show a problem as existing.

But that needs to be clarified. And reported on. And for the REAL problems, go after the money and prosecute the crimes.


KAP said...

Geez, you've got "Gangsta's Paradise" running through my noggin (No, I'm not maligning anyone, I just thought of the song). Actually, now it's the Weird Al parody.

I blog because I yam, but really don't expect to change the world... pretty much the conclusion I came to when I was a reporter.

And we all love to shout "I'm mad as hell..."

Saipan Writer said...

I got this great comment via e-mail. It's too good not to add it here. I hope someone sees it and pays attention!

"I am writing this in response to your recent blog post about OPA referrals of cases involving suspected government fraud, waste, or corruption to the AGO, and the dismal results of such referrals to the AGO.

Where such matters are viewed as priorities, responsible and prudent attorneys general usually recruit and hire dedicated lawyers having specialized skill, knowledge, training, and experience to handle cases involving suspected government fraud, waste, or corruption exclusively.

When Pam Brown was the AG, she specifically designated deputy AG Clyde Lemons, Jr., who had previously served as the chief prosecutor, to handle "public corruption" cases. (See http://www.saipantribune.com/newsstory.aspx?cat=1&newsID=33290). Subsequently, he did handle a number of such cases against current and former public officers and employees. Although the resources available to deputy AG Lemons were extremely limited, many old / stale OPA referrals were closed around that time, on the basis that criminal prosecutions and/or civil actions against the alleged responsible parties were barred by the applicable statutes of limitations and/or the doctrine of laches; some cases were rejected because key witnesses were no longer available; and a number of other cases were declined or deferred due to perceived deficiencies in OPA's investigations and the quantity or quality of the evidence gathered, which practically eliminated or greatly diminished the chances of success.

When Mona Manglona was the AG, it was proposed that one or more of the OPA staff attorneys be designated as "special" assistant attorneys general, for the purpose of handling cases involving suspected government fraud, waste, or corruption. However, that proposal was rejected by the former public auditor, who apparently did not wish to undertake the burdens and responsibilities associated with prosecuting "public corruption" cases that had been investigated and referred by his office to the AGO.

When Rob Torres was the AG, he recruited a lawyer who had specialized in handling "public corruption" cases in his home state. However, that lawyer left Saipan soon after his arrival in 2002, and unfortunately, Rob Torres' resignation from the AGO occurred shortly thereafter.

My recommendations are:

1. That the current AG recruit and hire a dedicated legal specialist to handle "public corruption" cases exclusively.
2. That the current AG pursue a memorandum of understanding with the public auditor, to designate OPA's staff attorney as a "special" assistant attorney general for the purpose of handling cases involving suspected government fraud, waste, or corruption.
3. That sufficient resources be committed by the AGO / OPA / AGIU to enable the aforementioned designees to effectively investigate and prosecute criminal and civil cases involving suspected government fraud, waste, or corruption.
4. That the statutory remedies, civil money penalties, and criminal penalties against public officers and employees who engage in fraud, waste, or corruption be significantly increased by the CNMI legislature, that the elements of liability be redefined where necessary, and that the statutes of limitations be amended to extend the limitation periods provided in such cases.
5. That the proposed initiative to change from gubernatorial appointment of the AG, with consent of the senate, to an elected AG, be presented to an informed CNMI electorate to decide whether an elected AG would be preferable.

A great commonwealth holds public officers and employees accountable for the consequences of their fraud, waste, and corruption. Imagine a great commonwealth."