Public travel does not pass smell test for fiscal responsibility

Eddie Calvo used public funds many times during his eight years as governor of Guam to travel. Like Arnold Palacios – the current governor of the CNMI – Mr. Calvo mainly went to Washington, D.C. to meet with federal officials. As his director of communications for those first four years of his term, it was important for me to quantify the benefits of those trips by informing our people about the “wins” Mr. Calvo brought back home each time he went somewhere.

The former Guam governor also traveled many times to San Francisco to meet with the major credit ratings agencies, and to New York and Connecticut for the sale of Guam’s bonds on the market. According to our financial advisors at the time, his presence and stewardship of these processes made all the difference. Mr. Palacios may soon find that in the midst of the fiscal crisis he faces – one Mr. Calvo faced at the start of his term – he may have to take those trips to San Francisco and New York to sell municipal bonds as well in order to save the Commonwealth.

In each of these trips, Mr. Calvo took a team of high-level staff with him. Every public dollar spent was justified, and the “wins” were exponentially more than the costs.

But not all of Mr. Calvo’s trips resulted in “wins,” and could reasonably be seen as what we colloquially call “junkets” here in the Marianas. For example, government agencies like Guam Visitors Bureau and Guam Economic Development Authority spent tons of money sending him and others to Vietnam on a so-called trade mission. Guess how many “wins” that produced. It was just a vacation with meetings in between to justify the costs.

One of my co-workers in the governor’s office – now-Senator Telo Taitague – went to Berlin (which she honestly called Berlin, Russia when she gave her after-action report in a senior staff meeting) and committed the government of Guam (without any authorization to do so) to a $1 million international table tennis tournament.

So, when I see Mr. Palacios and his team traveling to Washington, D.C. and Hawaii to meet with federal bureaucrats and military leaders, I recognize the effort as worthy and purposeful. There are “wins” he’s making. It is an investment of public dollars. One of his cabinet members – Glen Hunter – traveled stateside and brought back a multi-million dollar broadband grant. Definitely a “win.”

But everyone else who’s been traveling?

Mabel Doge Luhan has focused her ire on the wasteful junkets by Marianas Visitors Authority officials to absolutely ridiculous destinations. Malaysia? Really? Expos in Japan after the MVA manager told everyone Japan was a lost cause? A vacation to Australia? Madness.

But MVA isn’t the only place where public funds are being wasted on travel.

Since January 2023 upon taking office, Mr. Palacios has consistently lamented the fiscal crisis under which the Commonwealth was plunged by the plunder of his predecessor – Ralph Torres. Hours were cut from public workers to address the continuing austerity, and more spending cuts are on the horizon to avoid a so-called fiscal cliff. Retirees’ 25 percent supplemental, group health and life insurance, and even more hours from public workers may be sacrificed.

And as the everyday Commonwealth citizen is forced to struggle through these sacrifices, why does it appear like several high-ranking public workers are not making sacrifices as well?

In the wake of the early-2023 implementation of austerity measures, only one legislator reduced her salary to correspond with the sacrifices being made by the rank and file. And since then, scores of government officials – legislators included – have been taking trips on the public dime. As though everything is honkey dory in the Commonwealth treasury.

During Mr. Calvo’s time in office, several legislators and mayors tagged along on trips to the Philippines, Japan, Korea, the states, and throughout Micronesia. None of those trips produced shit for the people of Guam. Likewise, the CNMI’s legislators have absolutely no business traveling anywhere on public dime but Rota, Tinian, and Saipan, and maybe to the outer islands for regional legislative functions, like the APIL.

There is no economic benefit they are developing for the Commonwealth in Guam, Philippines, Japan, the states, Australia, Macau, or wherever they go. They are on taxpayer-funded vacations while the taxpayers are suffering through a stagnant economy they are supposed to be addressing through their work on Capitol Hill, not in fancy hotel rooms and shopping centers outside of the Commonwealth.

This editorial may anger officials in the new government, but it has to be said. We did not advocate the election overthrow of the Torres republicans just to see the new crop of leaders doing the same thing the republicans were doing. This has to be called out, especially because the governor himself has called for fiscal restraint. Especially because these same leaders may be forcing the everyday citizen to brace for further austerity.

And if these are federal grant funds being used, the least these privileged travelers can do is step aside to use that travel money on something more purposeful than useless time off island. They can start by paying for the plane tickets of people leaving the Commonwealth because it’s just too expensive to live in.


  • We have Calvo to thank for making John Arroyo president of the Bank of Saipan. A matched set of imbeciles.

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