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By Liberty Dones

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, March 3) – Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Benigno Fitial has separately summoned board members of the Commonwealth Ports Authority and Commonwealth Development Authority to personally tell them to resign their posts immediately, according to the members.

Press secretary Charles P. Reyes said the governor merely wants to have the flexibility to implement the needed reforms.

CPA board member Benigno Fejeran said that Fitial called them to the governor's office Friday last week "to tell us to tender our courtesy resignation."

"We thought that we'd be discussing CPA programs, but he actually had one agenda: he wants us out," said Fejeran, who is chairman of the CPA board's committee on finance.

Dela Cruz, who represents Tinian, said that, once gathered inside Fitial's office, the governor told them point blank: "Let's make this short. I want you to resign."

Both Fejeran and Dela Cruz, as well as other members, are appointees of former Gov. Juan N. Babauta.

Dela Cruz said that, during the meeting, he told the governor that "politics is not above the law."

"By law, we are to serve out our terms unless we are removed for cause and following a due process. What's the cause? Political? Politics is not above the law," said Dela Cruz.

Fejeran said that he reminded the governor that CPA "is the top performing agency" in the CNMI government.

"He [governor] can review the performance of CPA and see that, during our term, we did good," said Fejeran.

Fejeran, a close supporter of Babauta, said that, although he does not agree with Fitial's reasoning, he would respect the governor's decision.

"I told him I can understand that you want your people in. Don't worry, I'm going to submit my courtesy resignation soon," he said.

Dela Cruz said the governor should have appreciated the fact that "good economics doesn't just happen."

"It's people who make it happen. Granted that you have good programs, but if you don't have that good combination of people, you won't make it," he said.

Dela Cruz said the CPA board right now has that good combination of people.

"CPA's good performance despite the crisis didn't just happen. People at CPA made it happen," he said.

CDA board chair Tom Glenn A. Quitugua said that Fitial had also called them up to Capitol Hill "not to inquire about housing and CDA but to tell us to resign."

"Right off the bat, he told us that he wants us to submit our courtesy resignation. Usually when you come up there, you'd expect that you'd be asked about housing and CDA issues, but we didn't talk anything about that," said Quitugua, a Babauta appointee from Rota.

He said Fitial also informed them that a bill would be passed in the Legislature, calling for their resignation.

"I'm not exactly sure if he's referring to the Reyes bill that aims to make board members co-terminus with the appointing governor. But see, you can't do that, especially with CDA, which has ongoing CIP projects," he said.

Quitugua said individual board members have yet to decide whether to tender their resignations or not.

He said that sitting board members are obliged to fulfill their duties.

"We were appointed to serve our terms. We went through the whole process. We got confirmed by the Senate," he said.

"He is the new governor so he can ask everyone to resign but it's still the individual's decision," said Quitugua.

Press secretary Reyes justified the governor's push for the board members' resignation by saying that the governor wants flexibility to do the needed reforms in the CNMI.

"The governor has always been open about his desire to start clean.and to be allowed the flexibility to choose administrators [and] policymakers that are aligned with his political philosophy. I can tell you that the governor wants to be in a position to effect meaningful reforms," said Reyes.

Reyes acknowledged that "CDA is not doing good" but he said that there is really no serious plan right now to abolish the agency.

"There is no drive right now for that. With [abolished] Marianas Public Lands Authority, there was a clear case. There's a drive to fix the problem permanently. There are numerous abuses and we finally corrected that, once and for all. With other boards and commissions, we have to look at them very carefully and try to work within the system," said Reyes.

Quitugua, meantime, said that Fitial did not tell them anything about abolishing the agency but the possibility of merging it with the Department of Commerce.

March 3, 2006

Saipan Tribune

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