Pay raises and contracts overshadow pay for retirees

Documents show Gov. Ralph Torres’s administration has been using public funds for contracts to family members and campaign associates. In his budget request to the legislature, Mr. Torres also provided for lucrative pay raises to some of his staff. While the governor is using public funds for contracts and pay raises to his cronies, glaringly missing from his budget proposal is the 25 percent allotment for government retirees.

Also missing? Any proposal to fund the actual operations of the Commonwealth government.

The 25 percent allotment is needed from local funds in order to complete pension payments to retirees under the settlement agreement instituted by the federal court under the Inos administration. The shortfall in the governor’s budget, which for the current fiscal year was estimated to be about $14 million, materialized from the billions-to-bust operations of the Saipan casino, whose gross business taxes were supposed to fund the 25 percent. The closure of Imperial Pacific International – the Torres administration’s promised golden ticket to prosperity – in 2020 due to the pandemic ended that funding stream, leaving it to the CNMI’s taxpayers to foot the bill.

Mr. Torres’s budget, however, makes no appropriation for one-quarter of the retirees’s pensions, shorting some of the most vulnerable Commonwealth residents three months’s worth of their fixed incomes.

While Mr. Torres proposes to shortchange these retirees, he has no problem granting an average of $13,000 in annual pay raises to members of his staff and administration in his new budget, with room to hire into high-paid vacancies throughout the executive agencies.

Department of Finance documents obtained by Rep. Corina Magofna recently show Mr. Torres obligating public funds for a variety of services awarded to his cronies.

For example, despite public outcry on the use of hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds for cleaning services by a company – JOGO Sanitation – connected to the governor’s family, the DOF documents indicate even more contractual obligations to JOGO this year.

Another vendor – Antonio S. Kapileo – who reportedly is a campaign official for the governor’s running mate, Sen. Vinnie Sablan, was awarded three contracts this year. All three contracts, totaling $23,000, are for services to emergency medical services. The invoice description for a $9,000 check issued to Mr. Kapileo on May 23 indicates the payment was for “EMS rules and regulations.”

Another $7,500 check was issued to a company owned by Juan Santiago’s brother – Ray’s Lawn Care and Maintenance – for “Disposal of DOF Confidential Documents May ’22”

According to the governor’s revised budget of local funds, he anticipates the Commonwealth government will collect about $150 million in Fiscal Year 2023, with $46 million being backed out for debt service, the pension fund settlement agreement (75 percent only), and earmarks. Of the total remaining for appropriation – about $105 million – Mr. Torres has zeroed out nearly all non-personnel operations for the executive agencies.

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