What would you do with $39,100?

This is a reasonable question considering Ralph Torres received enough federal pandemic funding over a two year period to line the pockets of each man, woman, and child of the Commonwealth with $39,100 a piece. This is according to a recently-released U.S. Government Accounting Office report.

He left none of that $1.9 billion when he left office. In fact, he overspent it by $80 million. What he did leave behind is a commonwealth in shambles. From near-payless paydays to high unemployment to underpaid workers to rising meth addiction to an exodus from Rota, Tinian, and Saipan.

The latest data for the CNMI puts its per capita income at $13,707 as of 2020, when the public health emergency began. Had the former governor simply disbursed all the pandemic funding in a lump sum check, he would have paid out nearly three years’ worth of average paychecks to every man, woman, and child in the Commonwealth.

Instead, not even half of that $1.9 billion was disbursed to people in need, according to the figures the GAO provided. A little more than $715 million was given to the CNMI government to pay out pandemic unemployment claims. Another $262 million went to education agencies through the Education Stabilization fund. Another $45.8 million went to the Nutrition Assistance program, and $30 million for P-EBT.

The accounting of the rest of the funds remains in a vortex of conspiracy.

“CNMI was not included in Treasury’s quarterly data through October 2022 because, according to Treasury officials, CNMI did not submit its Project and Expenditure reports for the first 3 quarters of fiscal year 2022,” according to a note in the GAO report. These noted three fiscal quarters coincide with two significant periods: the Commonwealth’s receipt of the bulk of pandemic funds, and the months preceding the 2022 election.

And while the Torres administration submitted some of the project and expenditure reports during the pandemic era, those reports are unverified against any independent third party. There has not been a single audit of federal funds receipt and expenditure in the Commonwealth since 2021.

Where in the world did Ralph Torres spend $1 billion, then?

Mr. Torres had a bank book of federal funds with nearly $1 billion in it, after backing out the monies set aside for unemployment assistance and for education stabilization funds. About half of that, according to the GAO report, was from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (CSLFRF).

This was $487 million in grants Mr. Torres had absolute control over. The Commonwealth Legislature attempted to subject those funds through the legislative appropriations process in order to bring transparency and accountability to expenditures. However, the republican-led Senate at the time killed the effort.

The GAO report suggests Mr. Torres’ administration told its grantor agency – the U.S. Department of the Treasury – that it would use the CSLFRF to fund government revenue shortfalls.

“According to their CSLFRF Recovery Plans, the governments of CNMI, Puerto Rico, and USVI planned to use the largest share of their CSLFRF allocations to address the budget shortfalls caused by the reduction in government revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the GAO report states. “These territory governments rely on tax revenue from tourism, which diminished significantly during the pandemic.”

Evidence revealed by the Palacios administration indicates this is not the case, as Mr. Torres left Arnold Palacios a government in growing deficit.

According to The Graduate School’s Performeter of CNMI government financials, by the end of Fiscal Year 2020, the unfunded liabilities (the ‘deficit’ without factoring the pension fund liability) was more than $140 million.

That means the deficit of three fiscal years ago was already 125 percent of all the money available for appropriation in next year’s government budget of $114 million available for appropriation. And the deficit has grown each year since 2020, according to unaudited financials produced during David Atalig, Jr.’s leadership of the Department of Finance, and now Tracy Norita’s leadership as secretary.

Mr. Torres also did not use the money to pay burgeoning debts by the hospital and to the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation. Nor did he use the funds to pay off significant obligations to several government vendors. The most obvious sign of the failure to use funds for revenue replacement is the ongoing 72-hour pay period, which has resulted in ‘Austerity Mondays.’

To place the amount of CSLFRF funds into perspective, $487 million is about four years worth of local funds budget for the CNMI government.

According to Edwin Propst, the CNMI House of Representatives will launch investigative proceedings into Mr. Torres’ use of pandemic era federal funds. He was chosen by the house speaker to be the vice chairman of the investigative committee. Ralph Yumul was selected as its chairman. The proceedings, according to Mr. Propst, will begin once the Fiscal Year 2024 budget is adopted, which is expected to happen by September 30.


  • Nothing surprises me about Ralph Torres any more. If Interpol discovered Ralph stole the Holy Grail, nobody in the Commonwealth would be surprised. He’s been able to steal everything except a grand piano.

    Pity that Chateau D’If isn’t available any more.

  • Mabel Doge Luhan

      09/27/2023 at 11:53 PM

    Troy Torso, you sniveling ingrate!

    You mocked our wise former governor’s use of public funds to vacation with a small-time YouTuber with a chiseled jaw and abs that make me weep. Yet now, we are enjoying the windfall from the opening of the Ritz-Carlton Northern Islands and the Pagan International Spaceport! Releasing those deer on Rota was worth it, won’t you admit?

    You said BOOST was a heist, but what of the thousands of jobs provided by Flower Tea House? The owner is so grateful that she still kneels before Jesus!

    You mocked the funding of the Sultana Diann Foundation, but who’s laughing now that Czarina Diann has solved world hunger and marital infidelity?

    Oh, what a splendid, splendid world! But the future is even brighter: the windfall of Spam, Tacomas, and meth that will soon rain down upon us thanks to CAPTIVE INCHWORMS!

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