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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 6) – A local political analyst says the move to recall Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana IslandsGov. Benigno Fitial is a good indication that elected leaders are not above the people who put them in office, but it will still not solve the problems plaguing the CNMI.

Sam McPhetres, chairman of Northern Marianas College’s political science department, said retired teacher Jim Feger’s proposal to recall the governor is likely to get the support of most retirees and their relatives.

The recall move was provoked by the governor’s plan to write off the government’s US$123 million unpaid employer contributions to the Retirement Fund, and to compel the agency to lend the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. $40 million.

Fitial said he doesn’t mind the recall threat.

"That’s freedom of speech," said the governor. "And I believe that what I’m doing will salvage the Retirement Fund."

But McPhetres said the recall petition is unlikely to go anywhere considering that it needs the signatures of 40 percent of the electorate, which is roughly over 6,000.

"I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere. I know Feger. He’s a good guy. He would probably have a fair amount of support from the community. But it will still not solve the financial problems of the commonwealth," said McPhetres.

Asked if the recall petition would set a bad precedent, McPhetres said: "Not necessarily — because it would show that (elected officials) are not above the people. The governors are not beyond the law."

A similar recall petition was initiated in the first year of then-Gov. Juan N. Babauta’s term, but it fizzled out.

Under Article IX, Section 3 of the CNMI Constitution, elected officials are subject to recall by the voters of the commonwealth.

The petition must identify the public official being recalled as well as the grounds for it.

However, the CNMI Constitution does not allow elected officials to be recalled if they have not served at least six months in office.

Fitial’s sixth month in office will be on July 9.

McPhetres said the people should realize that a recall won’t improve the economic situation of the commonwealth.

"We’re stuck with him for a while. I just don’t see any alternative," he said.

Fitial narrowly won against other three gubernatorial hopefuls during the Nov. 2005 gubernatorial election.

McPhetres said former Speaker Heinz S. Hofschneider, who lost to Fitial by only 99 votes, might have done things differently if he had won but there is no guarantee that he could do a better job.

McPhetres, however, said he is sure that if former Gov. Juan N. Babauta had been re-elected "it would be worse."

"This is a lot of his mess," McPhetres said.

June 6, 2006

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