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Election celebrations aren’t cheap

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 14, 2010) – In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), the government spent at least US$108,000 in inaugural ceremonies in January, and at least US$7,000 in lawmakers' discretionary funds changed hands in the first three months of calendar year 2010 based on the latest report on reprogrammed government funds.

The report, prepared by special assistant for management and budget Virginia C. Villagomez, shows that US$75,500 was transferred from the attorney general's external legal fees account to the inaugural activities of Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos in January.

The administration earlier said it was able to raise some US$80,000 for the inauguration, on top of the amount raised from the inaugural golf tournament. When Fitial was first elected to office in 2005, his inauguration ceremonies at the time were budgeted at US$200,000.

The government also reprogrammed US$7,500 each for the inaugural activities of the Saipan, Rota and Tinian mayors, totaling US$22,500.

The Senate and House inaugural activities were budgeted US$5,000 each, totaling US$10,000.

At least 14 of 29 members of the 17th Legislature also transferred or shared with their colleagues at least US$7,000 in discretionary funds between January and March.

Most of these transfers of lawmakers' funds were due to shared expenses for legislative staffers. For example, two or three lawmakers would have one common staffer for limited time to be able to save on resources and share expertise.

Sen. Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) transferred US$562.26 to the office of Rep. Joseph Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), Rep. Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan), and Rep. Joseph Palacios (R-Saipan).

Cabrera said the amount transferred to his office account on two separate occasions, totaling US$319.52, was for Torres' share of payment to Cabrera's staffer who helped the senator with his office projects. Torres also shared US$83.32 with Deleon Guerrero and US$159.76.

House Floor Leader George Camacho (Ind-Saipan) transferred US$2,307.72 to Rep. Frederick Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan). Later on, Deleon Guerrero transferred US$300 to Camacho's account.

House Minority Leader Diego T. Benavente (R-Saipan) transferred US$870 to the account of Rep. Joseph Palacios (R-Saipan).

Rep. Ray N. Yumul (R-Saipan) moved US$200 to the account of Rep. Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan). Yumul said the amount was for a sponsorship request.

Rep. Sylvester Iguel (Cov-Saipan) transferred US$300 to Rep. Frederick Deleon Guerrero. Iguel said he and Deleon Guerrero also share personnel payment for a staffer. He said the agreement will only be until September 2010.

Rep. Tony Sablan (R-Saipan) also transferred US$3,000 to Rep. Stanley Torres' (Ind-Saipan) account.

Rep. Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan) also transferred US$100 to the account of Rep. Raymond Palacios (Cov-Saipan).

Lawmakers and government agencies are required by law to report reprogramming of funds every quarter.

The quarterly discretionary fund allotment is separate from each lawmaker's monthly salary and from the committee chairmanship budget.

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