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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

CNMI House To Form Impeachment, Fund Panels
Speaker vows to revisit impeachment committee report

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Nov. 16, 2012) – The creation of a new impeachment panel will be one of the initial acts of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’18th House of Representatives when it convenes in January, incoming Speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero said yesterday.

He told reporters that he will also create a special committee to address the Retirement Fund crisis.

Deleon Guerrero said they will re-introduce a new impeachment resolution which will contain the same articles except one — the charge of neglect of duty for Fitial’s failure to pay government contributions to the Fund. This was allowed by a law passed by the Legislature.

The current House leadership rejected the impeachment resolution by a vote of 10 to 9 despite the absence of a committee report.

The resolution needed 14 votes to bring the impeachment issue to the Senate.

"We have an uncompleted committee report," Deleon Guerrero said. "I will be appointing a special committee to go back, review and finalize it. Then the new panel members can report it out to the full body. It should not take very long and then the full body can vote on it."

Because an investigation has already been done, he said the new impeachment move "would be just a matter of completing what we were not allowed to complete."

The Fitial administration declined to comment.

The opposition will control 16 of the 20 House seats in the 18th Legislature.

Pension woes

Deleon Guerrero said floating a pension obligation bond (POB) will be another of their priorities.

The POB legislative initiative received 6,876 "yes" and 4,152 "no" votes in last week’s elections. In 2010, the same proposal was rejected by the voters with 3,376 voting "yes" and 4.400 voting "no."

Deleon Guerrero said the Fund affects the lives of 4,000 retirees and their families, but he added that the ratification of the POB initiative does not automatically mean that the government will float a pension obligation bond right away.

A feasibility study should be conducted first, he added, and the decision whether or not to float a bond will depend on its findings, which will include a review of the CNMI’s credit ratings, an assessment of the government’s ability to pay back the bond, and the identification of a funding source.

"This feasibility study will determine the actual question of whether or not we can borrow and how much," he said.

The government owes the Fund over $300 million, and the pension agency itself has unfunded liabilities amounting to $1 billion.

Deleon Guerrero said floating a bond may extend the life of the Retirement Fund for at least three to four years.

Lawmakers, he added, have to find other ways to help the Fund. "We need to do something immediately," he said.

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