PALAU GOVERNOR WINS APPEAL OVER $33,000 LIABILITY

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KOROR, Palau (Palau Horizon/Marianas Variety, Mar. 7) - The Supreme Court’s appellate division reversed a lower court ruling that found Ngiwal Governor Elmis Mesubed and six state legislators liable for appropriating and spending over $33,000 for their swearing-in ceremony in 2000.

The appellate court overturned and remanded the case to the lower court with instructions to enter judgment in favor of Mesubed and the state legislators.

In 2001, the Office of the Special Prosecutor filed a civil suit against the defendants for spending $33,388.87 for the inauguration of Mesubed and members of the state legislature, the Kelulul a Kiuluul.

Included in the expenditures were three round-trip plane tickets to the Northern Marianas and a $320 donation to a Ngiwal Club on Saipan.

Since there were no funds available in the state treasury, state officials reprogrammed the money earmarked by the national legislature, the Olbiil Era Kelulau, for the state’s capital improvement projects.

But other legislators opposed appropriating $30,000 for the ceremony.

The trial court ruled that Mesubed and the six legislators, Francisco Melaitau, Moses Sam, Inacio Sadang, Russell Masayos, Augusto Renguul and Lazarus Inacio, violated 40 PNC section 406.

The section imposes joint and severe liabilities on government officials who "expend, obligate, or certify public funds in excess of appropriations."

However the appellate court said the defendants couldn’t be held liable for voting in favor of the bill appropriating funds for the ceremony.

The appellate court agreed with the defendants who argued that section 406 does not apply to their act of voting because it is not equivalent to expending, obligating or certifying funds.

"What the legislative defendants did was to vote to appropriate funds. An appropriation is a setting apart for a specific purpose or use. Appropriate is not a synonym for expend, certify or obligate," the appellate court opinion said.

March 7, 2003

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