Office of Public Auditor Dropping the Ball?

October 22, 2010

In his editorial, Impunity on Capital Hill, Marianas Variety editor Zaldy Dandan pointed out that legally a CNMI government employee cannot move from a government position to one in the private sector to carry out the same work. That is exactly what former CNMI Commerce Secretary Michael Ada did.

From Zaldy's editorial:
The Government Ethics Act of 1992, in any case, includes a “revolving door” provision that prohibits public officials from taking a position or contract for work in which the public official or employee “participated personally and substantially in the subject matter of the transaction during his term of public legal authority.  With respect to a contract, this prohibition shall be permanent as to that contract.”

This “revolving door” provision is integral to maintaining public trust. The governor’s attorney general may parse these words however he chooses, but the ARRA contract is in violation of the spirit if not the letter of the Government Ethics Act.

By the way

If the former Commerce secretary could not move ARRA grant expenditures forward with the full support of a cadre of professionals in his department and a small army of contractors, why does the administration think he will be more successful as a solo contractor? There is no doubt that the CNMI needs a lot of help in submitting grants and spending federal funds, but this arrangement won’t solve that problem.

Of the $80 million in ARRA grants awarded to the CNMI, only $40 million has been spent, and the clock is ticking. As long as the administration is intent on hiring political cronies instead of professional employees, it will not meet its obligations and the commonwealth will continue to lag in getting badly needed funds where it can do the most good — circulating in the economy.
Zaldy's editorial is spot on. The ARRA contract appears to be in violation of The Government Ethics Act of 1992.  In particular, Section 8432. Restraints on Use of Public Position to Obtain Private Benefit:
(a) A public official or public employee shall not use or attempt to use the public position to obtain private financial gain, contract, employment, license, or other personal or private
advantage, direct or indirect, for the public official or public employee, for a relative, or for an entity in which the public official or employee has a present or potential economic interest. 
(b) A public official or public employee or a former public official or former public employee, shall not disclose or use for the public official or employee, or a former public. official or former public employee's own economic benefit, or that of another person,
confidential information acquired by the public position or employment that is not generally available to the public.
Section 8444 which discusses prohibitions in negotiating for non-government employment may also have been violated. Section 8473 states that CNMI contracts must reference this act and any found to violate it become void.  Furthermore it states:
Any permit, license, ruling determination, or other official action of a Commonwealth
governmental entity applied for or in any other manner sought, obtained or undertaken in violation of any of the provisions of this chapter shall be invalid and without any force or effect whatsoever.
The act charges the OPA with accepting and investigating complaints, but like many CNMI laws, it seems to lacks teeth.

While it seems the OPA should be investigating whether or not there are violations of the Ethics Act in granting a sole-source contract to Ada for the same work he was doing as Commerce Secretary,  the federal government may provide the answer.

The controversy must be investigated not only because the pattern of political favors and corruption is not in the best interest of the public, but also because $100 million in ARRA funds is at risk.  At least Congressman Sablan had the wisdom to take action to protect the CNMI's funds by writing to VIce President Biden.

Letter from Congressman Gregorio Kilili Sablan to Vice President Biden:


Anonymous said...

Mike Pai is too busy attending off-island conferences and trying to get his salary increased such that he has no time to actually do his work.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what's happening at OPA, or if they are swayed by politics. One thing for sure is they are not nearly as active or proactive as they were under the command of Mr. Mike Sablan.

Captain said...

So does this also apply to non supervisory Govt. employees task on a specific Job within the NMI Govt.?
If so then Ada cannot "bring over" the Govt. employees that were working on the ARRA contracts for the Govt. Is that correct???

If he cannot "absorb" these employees then his company is incapable of handling this contract as he has no employees. Correct?

This would, again, make the reason for awarding him the "sole sourced" contract invalid.