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By Aldwin R. Fajardo

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (February 15, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---Washington Rep. Juan Babauta faced three House committees yesterday in the first ever oversight hearings conducted by the legislature into the Office of the CNMI Resident Representative to the United States.

The oversight hearings resulted from a financial report prepared by the House Ways and Means Committee, which claimed that Babauta overspent more than $250,000 from his fiscal 1999 allotment.

The hearing focused on the office's fund use as well as assessments on federal takeover and annual appropriations legislation pending before the U.S. Congress.

Legislators also took turns in grilling Babauta due to his office's apparent failure to stop the approval of legislation in the U.S. Senate, which was aimed at extending federal immigration and minimum wage control into the CNMI.

House Ways and Means Committee Chair Antonio M. Camacho said efforts are now under way to finally stop the alleged overspending by the Washington Representative's Office.

In an interview after the hearing, Camacho said Babauta had given his staff promotions on several occasions, which run contrary to the governor's call for a freeze in wage adjustments in view of depleting public revenues.

"We will try to recover whatever it is he has overspent," he said. "We will be writing the governor and the Office of Management and Budget for consolidated efforts to make sure government money is spent appropriately."

House records reveal that the Washington Representative's Office had been given a $1.381 million budget during the last fiscal year, but had actually spent $1.632 million during the same period.

At the same time, House Federal and Foreign Relations Committee Chair Norman S. Palacios questioned Babauta's apparent failure to block moves in the U.S. Congress to extend federal immigration and minimum wage laws into the CNMI.

Palacios argued that the Washington representative should have been in the U.S. during the time the Senate voted in favor of the federal takeover legislation sponsored by Sen. Frank Murkowski, chair of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

However, Babauta said his presence during the deliberations on the legislation by the U.S. Senate would not have yielded any positive results for the CNMI at all since he does not have voting authority.

Babauta also defended the importance of his office in making the Commonwealth's voice heard on issues directly or indirectly affecting the Northern Marianas.

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

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