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Commission meant to benefit Guam’s indigenous people

By Dionesis Tamondong

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, April 21, 2009) - Questionable land deals, thousands of pending applications and the lack of rules and regulations were among the issues scrutinized by a panel of senators during an oversight hearing yesterday.

Lawmakers issued several directives to the Chamorro Land Trust Commission, including holding off on approving any commercial licenses until rules and regulations are in place for those licenses.

As well, any commercial activity on land trust property shouldn't take priority over issuing residential and agricultural leases for Guam's indigenous people, which is the primary mission of the commission, said Sen. Ben Pangelinan, chairman of the committee on land issues.

"If there is land left over, then you can move forward on commercial licenses," said Pangelinan, D-Barrigada.

The oversight hearing takes place less than a week after a public auditor's report showed many continuing problems at the commission, including lack of financial controls and program monitoring.

The hearing lasted most of yesterday afternoon and past 7:30 p.m. CLTC board members and its new and previous directors appeared before senators.

Officials repeated to lawmakers their need for more staff and resources to properly review and approve the thousands of lease applications before them. A master land-use plan for the island could also guide the commission in its mission, said former commission Director Joseph Borja, who resigned last week.

Senators said they wanted assurances from Land Trust officials that clear rules, procedures and plans will be developed and abided by to get thousands of eligible applicants the lots they should have received years ago. Just as important for having those rules is to ensure those who aren't eligible for the program's finite land aren't awarded licenses for such lots.

Sen. Judith Guthertz, D-Mangilao, was among a few senators who questioned why the Land Trust initially rejected a commercial application from a company, Guam Rock, but is now moving forward on that application. She also asked if there was any officials exerted any influence in their decisions.

Borja said the conditions of the new application and the previous one have changed and reiterated that the application has yet to be finalized.

He also said he received a call from then-Sen. David Shimizu to reconsider that company's application.

Shimizu, now Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse director, was off island and unavailable for comment. Guam Rock officials couldn't be reached for comment.

Guthertz questioned if the commercial intentions for that land will actually benefit the Chamorro people.

"I don't think the commission should go forward with this until you have rules and regulations in place that protect the people of this territory. It's an imprudent and inappropriate use of public lands," she said. "I'm very concerned about this ... and this is happening while 12,000 people waiting in line for lots."

Borja had resigned last week after twice serving as the commission's director. Though his resignation came the same week as the public auditor's critical report, he told senators he had planned to resign in December but stayed on to complete several projects.

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