August 2, 2011
On July 5, 2011 the Saipan Tribune reported on the Fitial trip that the governor, his wife, press secretary Angel Demapan and others from the CNMI would be taking to Japan, San Francisco, Washington DC, Utah and Pohnpei. All of the stops on the world-wide trip were for official business except for Japan, which Fitial stated was a trip for him to have a coronary angiogram.
On August 1, after the governor arrived back in Saipan, reporter Haidee V. Eugenio summed up the trip in an article, Fitial wraps up almost a month of off-island travel, that described the itinerary.
From the Tribune:
The governor's first stop was to Nagoya, Japan where he was to have a coronary angiogram.I doubt that the procedure was done. Tonight someone sent me some photos of the trip that were posted on CNMI First Lady Josie Fitial's Facebook pages. Photos of the trip showed Fitial and others at meetings, visiting a young woman and newborn at a hospital, and eating at various locations.
However, the Fitial administration has yet to confirm whether such procedure was done.
The photos illustrate just what an extravagant trip it was. I went to the site to look at the photo albums myself. There were photos from trips to Boston, various cities in California, Utah, Washington, DC, Arizona, Japan, Canada and other places from 2010 to 2011. The photos showed side trips that included a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon, tours, Pier 39 in San Francisco, and a boat outing in Canada. There were photos of luxurious hotel suites and the governor with a variety of people at posh restaurants (like The Palm in Washington DC) enjoying what appeared to be the most expensive menu items. There were photos from Japan with what appeared to be officials or businessmen, photos from California with former Governor Juan Babuata and others enjoying a feast at a trendy restaurant, and photos from Washington, DC. that showed a casual picnic and other events.
Prior to Ada being awarded the ARRA contract, Governor Fitial and former Secretary of Commerce were traveling companions on many CNMI-paid trips: August 2010 to California, May 2010 to a California conference, March 2010 to Washington DC, February 2010 to Washington, DC, and July 2009 to the Micronesian Chiefs' Summit in Majuro. Ada also travelled to Washington, DC as Insurance Commissioner in September 2010.
The Saipan Tribune reported:
Among those in the photos were the governor, the first lady, special assistant for budget and management Vicky Villagomez, special assistant for administration Esther Fleming, acting Commerce secretary Sixto Igisomar, press secretary Demapan, former governor and now special adviser Juan N. Babauta and former Commerce secretary and now ARRA management contractor Michael Ada, among other individuals.A comment on a July 2010 Marianas Variety story:
+40 #14 EloyInos4Governor July 02, 2010 05:41PMI have no idea who EloyInos4Governor is, but I always wondered why this person puts a comment like this one on every story about a Fitial trip. Photos from Mrs. Fitial's facebook show why these comments always appear. It seems on the latest month-long trip and on previous trips taken with former Commerce Secretary Ada and others at every restaurant lobster, crab, and steak were the choice meal selections and champagne and wine flowed.
Did you know that Governor Fitial likes ordering steaks and lobster when on official travel to the U.S. mainland? Yes folks, the CNMI taxpayers pay when the governor wants to wine and dine.
Would somebody ask Finance for a copy of the governor's travel report and reimbursement requests?
Other concerned citizens expressed outrage as reported in the Marianas Variety:
Concerned citizen Ed Propst said the CNMI is broke, and it is disgusting to see the governor and other administration officials eating five-pound lobsters.Here are some photos from Facebook page that show the food and company on some trips from 2010 and the July 2011 marathon trip:
A resident, who declined to be identified, agreed. “It’s disgusting and he should be deeply ashamed along with every other government employee who unnecessarily travels, eats, and drives on the taxpayer’s tab. But there is a deep sense of shameless entitlement among government [officials] of all kind. Legislators, judges, and executive branch alike, and this makes it very easy for them to justify their choices. With one hand they take from us, and with the other they take for themselves as long as taxpayers allow, it will certainly continue.”
“While the CNMI burns, the privileged few party in San Francisco and D.C. and Japan,” said another resident.
|July 2011 Trip Japan|
|Japan July 2011|
|July 2011 Trip Japan|
|February 2011 Trip to Washington and California|
|Japan Trip July 2011|
|Washington DC Trip|
|Angel Demapan February 2011 Trip|
|California July 2011 trip|
|Washington DC and California Trip February 25, 2011|
|July 2011 San Francisco|
|San Francisco July 2011|
Press Secretary Angel Demapan, pictured above enjoying a lobster dinner, told the Tribune that any expenses over the $250 per day per diem were picked up by the governor. The Tribune reported:
The email sent by “CNMI Watchdog” takes issue with the officials' expensive dinner due to the CNMI government's financial quagmire and delayed payrolls.
“Just when we can't afford to pay vendors, we can't afford to make payroll, we can't get our tax rebate/refunds, but they can eat steak and lobster? It is certainly not against the law but it must be nice... Maybe it's time for government per diem to be adjusted? But who is going to be upset about this,” the email asks.
Early this year, the governor and other officials traveled to Washington, D.C. and San Francisco on official business. In July, the governor and other officials also traveled to the nation's capital and San Francisco, as well as Utah and Pohnpei, on official business.
Demapan said the established per diem rate for San Francisco in California and Washington, D.C. is $250 a day. This includes expenses for hotel and meals.
“Any cost incurred above the established rate is paid for by personal funds. Thus, we had all spent much personal funds given that most of our per diem funds were exhausted on hotel costs, given the higher median price of lodging in both California and Washington, D.C.,” he added.
I was going to download some other photos, but it seems that all of the photos were removed from the Facebook site. Most likely the pages were taken down after some photos were emailed to the local newspapers and reporters asked the Governor's Office for a statement.
Perhaps a Facebook page is not the best place to display photos showing CNMI leaders partying while government employees have had hours cut because of "austerity" measures and empty CNMI coffers. Photos put on Facebook are public domain unless hidden by private settings. Secretary Demapan may not understand that, as was suggested by some bizarre comments that he made to the Marianas Variety:
Demapan accused the wife of Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan’s chief of staff of lifting the photos from the Facebook account of the governor’s wife.
Demapan said “it is appalling that such a deceptive act will be dignified by the media.”The media should resort to fair means only when obtaining news, documents or photos, he said.
Facebook is a social networking service with close to 800 million active users.
“I have received information earlier today that Jude Marfil-Schwalbach, the wife of Bob Schwalbach, chief of staff of Delegate Kilili, originated email distribution of photos lifted without consent from a social network profile belonging to the first lady,” Demapan said.
“This is the same type of action that led to the demise of Rupert Murdoch’s news corporation. Everyone and all media services should have learned from the mistakes of Mr. Murdoch’s company,” he added.
Again Facebook photos are public domain unless the page owner uses privacy settings to hide them. Photos of notorious accused murderer Casey Anthony partying while her child was missing were taken from her Facebook page. Many employers scan prospective employees' Facebook pages looking for indications of inappropriate or compromising behavior in comments and photos before they hire new recruits.
Demapan is extremely ignorant to compare publicly published photos to the Murdoch scandal where private accounts and phone lines were hacked. He is also unwise to accuse the wife of a congressional staffer. I received the photos and they were not from her or anyone even remotely affiliated with Congressman Sablan. Is Demapan so paranoid or so poisoned by hatred of the distinguished Congressman that he assumes the exposure should be attributed to him, or a staff member's wife? Or maybe that lobster photo of him made him feel guilty of enjoying luxury when folks in the CNMI are scrapping by for money to buy mere basics like rice? Is there anyone in the Fitial Administration that can accept responsibility rather than trying to blame someone else?
It is also incredible that a press secretary would say, "The media should resort to fair means only when obtaining news, documents or photos." Fair means? Taking photos that were put out to the public is not unusual and not unfair. This administration is famous for secrecy, hidden agendas, concealing information, hiding documents, twisting the truth, outlandish excuses for violating laws, and backdoor deals. Every action that a public official takes can be considered news, even those that show poor judgment. Investigative reporting helps expose corruption unethical behavior and actions of excess that are in poor taste.