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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (Sept. 10, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---He said that if he had the opportunity, he would personally ask Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) to widen the probe to include locals who may be on the OIA's payroll for the sole function of criticizing the Commonwealth.

"I would recommend that the investigation be expanded to include...other people who are involved in checking out evidence against the CNMI, maybe some local residents also who are actively engaging in a smear campaign," said CNMI Senator Reyes.

The senator made the comment on the eve of his departure for Washington D.C. to attend the two scheduled oversight hearings called by the same House Resources Committee as well as its Senate counterpart.

While island leaders, led by Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio, are expected to meet with key members of Congress and their staff, Reyes said that he would try to discuss CNMI's concerns on the investigation being conducted by Young's panel.

The House Resources Committee, which deals with island issues, has initiated a probe on some Interior and OIA officials for possible violation of the Hatch Act by using government time and resources to launch political attacks against Republican leaders in Congress.

According to initial findings by the committee, these officials, along with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, used CNMI issues as a platform to damage the GOP in a bid to assist Democratic opponents.

Reyes and other CNMI lawmakers have thrown their support behind the probe as part of the efforts to shed light on the continuous criticisms leveled by some OIA officials against the island government.

"This is going to be a lengthy investigation. I don't know how wide-ranging the committee would want to explore," the Senator explained, "but I think the committee should look into the expenses of OIA to find out who are on its payroll."

Reyes raised the possibility that some locals, who are vocal about their opposition against the way the CNMI handles its own labor and immigration system, may be receiving money from these OIA officials.

"I am speculating that there maybe some residents here who may be doing that because they are on the payroll," he said.

He stressed that by investigating these people, it would further clear doubts on their motives. "If that is so, then clearly there is a deliberate, malicious campaign against the CNMI," said Reyes.

If Young agrees to widen the probe, it would help the CNMI bolster its efforts to lobby against attempts to strip local authority over immigration, minimum wage and custom standards.

"It certainly does not hurt the positions of the CNMI now to try and articulate (our position), regardless of whether those alleged abuses and exaggerated allegations were factual or not," said the Senator.

"We are taking it seriously and the government is making sure that reforms are implemented," Reyes added.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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