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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

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Administration: NMI Lawmakers Will Decide Impeachment
House members allege Fitial tried to influence voting process

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 5, 2013) – Days ahead of the full House of Representatives vote on a resolution to impeach Northern Marianas Governor Benigno R. Fitial, the administration said yesterday that "at the end of the day, the decision will be made by each lawmaker."

A House session will be called for either Friday or Monday to vote on a resolution impeaching Fitial for 18 allegations of corruption, felony, and neglect of duty, depending on when the Special Investigating Committee on Impeachment adopts a final report and recommendation.

A 51-page draft of the impeachment panel report is now under review by committee members, who will meet again today, tomorrow, and Thursday, committee chair Rep. Tony Sablan (IR-Saipan) said.

Press secretary Angel Demapan said yesterday he is not aware of any statutory prohibitions that bar the governor from discussing his side of the story with lawmakers.

"The most important issue to note here is that the lawmakers themselves will, at the appropriate time, independently and willingly cast their vote on this matter based on all the evidence brought before them. It is no different as having pro-impeachment advocates lobbying lawmakers to vote for impeachment. Is that not to be considered as tampering or influencing? At the end of the day, the decision will be made by each lawmaker, no more no less," Demapan told Saipan Tribune.

Rep. Mario Taitano (IR-Saipan) said the governor has attempted to use other people to get to him on the impeachment vote but the facts and evidence support the governor's impeachment.

House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan) separately said yesterday that if this were criminal proceedings, the governor could be charged and jailed for witness or grand jury tampering.

Deleon Guerrero, main author of the impeachment resolution, said the governor trying to influence or obstruct the impeachment process is a concern.

"Now if this has gone public on one of our members, we may have concern that it may be happening, this may be more widespread but we haven't found out about it. And the extent of his tampering may go beyond the House and it may go to the Senate so there is a [concern]. I think he may be put in jail if this was a criminal proceeding. I mean he could be charged if this were a criminal proceeding. Lucky it's not," Deleon Guerrero said yesterday.

Rep. Janet Maratita (IR-Saipan) told Saipan Tribune on Friday that she has "$190 million reasons to vote yes to impeach the governor," referring to the lawsuit she filed on behalf of taxpayers over the governor's signing of a no-bid, 25-year $190.8-million diesel power purchase agreement.

The sole-source PPA is one of the corruption allegations against Fitial.

The special committee chair said they will ensure that the 72-hour public notice requirement is met, and will give ample time for all House members to review the committee report once it is finalized.

"We don't want to be contradicting ourselves in the way we conduct the impeachment process. We want to move things but we want to do it right and proper," he told reporters.

At the Senate

The Senate leadership has yet to name members of a special committee on impeachment rules.

Senate President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) and Vice President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) said yesterday that all the members of the committee, which Torres chairs, will be named either today or the next few days.

However, the leadership has started doing preliminary research on impeachment trial procedures.

At least 14 "yes" votes in the 20-member House are needed to elevate the impeachment process to the Senate.

In the nine-member Senate, at least six "yes" votes are needed to convict the governor.

In the House, all members are expected to vote on each of the 18 articles, instead of voting on the resolution as a whole.

The governor can be impeached and convicted on any of the 18 articles of impeachment.

Saipan Tribune
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