Prior to the runoff election for CNMI governor there were mixers, commercials, social media posts, and a full-on and expensive campaign to encourage Commonwealth businesses to apply for grants under the Building Optimism, Opportunities and Stability Together (BOOST) program.
Then, on Saturday, November 26, news of Gov. Ralph Torres’s landslide loss to Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios began circulating. And all of a sudden, every effort to promote the BOOST program stopped.
In fact, the last time BOOST CNMI posted an update was November 25, 2022, as of the publication of this story. That was 11 days ago.
Prior to the runoff election, the House Judiciary and Government Operations Committee, along with the Ways and Means Committee began an inquiry into the BOOST program following a refusal by Torres administration officials to answer questions about the awarding of funds. Those questions arose from reports that Gov. Torres was using the program – fueled by federal funds – to promise grants in exchange for votes.
That investigation continues by the joint committee, with subpoenas commanding documents from the program and the appearances of the program’s bankers, administrator, and two cabinet secretaries involved with the funding and administration of the program. Also subpoenaed was governor’s chief of staff, Wil Castro, who is a former Guam republican senator.
House JGO committee chairwoman Rep. Celina Roberto Babauta today issued a statement to rebut false rumors that her inquiry has stopped the program.
“Contrary to the rumors abound, I have not put a stop to any BOOST checks from being disbursed,” Ms. Babauta wrote in her statement. She continued, “My office does not administer BOOST Program. I am not on the approving ‘panel.’ I have no access to the disbursement of any funds in the CNMI Treasury. So how could I possibly ‘stop’ the BOOST Program? In fact, just last week, checks were being disbursed under the BOOST Program. The ONLY person who could stop the disbursement of checks is the SOLE approving authority.”
That approving authority is the governor himself. But since losing the election, both he and his administration have done nothing in the way of marketing the program he claimed was essential to economic recovery.
“They went totally silent after losing the run off,” Rep. Ed Propst told Kandit. “It just proves how this BOOST program was all about getting the governor reelected. And when they failed that they stopped all marketing associated with the BOOST program.”
Mr. Castro, the secretaries of finance and commerce, a commerce employee, and three bankers are expected to appear in the House chamber on December 16 to answer for the program’s activities and, it appears now, inactivity.