War Of Words Between CNMI Governor, Utility Chief

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Fitial accuses Fletcher of lying to impeachment hearing

By Haidee V. Eugenio and Moneth G. Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Oct. 9, 2012) – Commonwealth Utilities Corp. acting executive director Alan W. Fletcher claims he was surprised and perplexed by Gov. Benigno R. Fitial's remarks accusing him of lying to the Special Committee on Impeachment when he testified last week on the $190.8-million power purchase agreement with Saipan Development LLC.

Despite what he calls "personal media attack" by Fitial, Fletcher said he continues to support the governor's "efforts to act in the best interest" of the CNMI people and said his "entire testimony" to the Special Committee on Impeachment was "truthful."

Fitial, in a brief interview with reporters, said he has not considered yet or has not made a decision whether to ask Fletcher to resign or not, reiterating that Fletcher "lied" to the impeachment panel.

"I haven't made that decision yet," Fitial said. "Well, he lied."

A claim that Fletcher disputes.

"My entire testimony was truthful. I am here to bring compliance under the stipulated orders and committed to making CUC successful," Fletcher said in a statement.

Fletcher testified before the impeachment panel on Wednesday on the sole-source $190.8-million power purchase agreement that is the subject of a lawsuit and investigations. Fitial signed the contract with former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham, whom the court says is a fugitive from justice.

The governor issued a statement Friday saying Fletcher gave "false and misleading information" when he testified before the impeachment committee on the no-bid power purchase agreement.

The impeachment panel is conducting hearings in connection with a resolution impeaching the governor for 16 allegations of felony, corruption, and neglect of duty.

In his statement yesterday, Fletcher said his position is mandated by a stipulated order executed by CUC, the CNMI government, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and enforceable by the U.S. District Court for the CNMI.

"In particular, I serve CUC as deputy executive director for the Water and Wastewater Division. The professionals recruited to serve CUC meet the standards mandated by the federal stipulated orders. Since early 2011, I have worked side by side with these professionals and the great employees of CUC to serve the utility and its customers. Without reservation, I can attest that these professionals and employees are committed to operating CUC in the best interests of the utility and its customers," he said.

Rep. Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) and Rep. Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan), both members of the impeachment committee, said Fletcher's testimony was consistent with what the panel has been finding out about the no-bid, 25-year power purchase agreement-that it's not in the best interest of the CNMI and its utility customers.

In the absence of a full economic analysis on the $190.8-million PPA, the committee asked Fletcher to instead give his personal and professional opinion on the PPA. He said he does not believe the current PPA is in the consumers' best interest.

Improvements at CUC

Fletcher's statement cited the progress made by CUC in the last few years since he came on board.

"Since I have been with CUC, the number of customers with 24-hour water service has significantly increased and for the first time since CUC began, we are close to islandwide 24-hour water," Fletcher said.

He added that CUC has not incurred any fines from EPA, which CUC had incurred in the past.

"There has been vast improvement in water quality-CUC has gone from monthly boil water notices to rarely having any water quality violations. Finally, CUC has not had power outages, like we had in 2008 and 2009," Fletcher said.

He said since the beginning of his service at CUC as a deputy director-and while serving in the interim role as acting executive director-his only focus has been to operate the utility within the local and federal laws that govern CUC and meet the needs of customers.

"Despite CUC's immense financial challenges, I remain committed to both helping this utility survive and working cooperatively with all areas of the administration for the benefit of the people of the CNMI," Fletcher said.

Fitial had said that the substance of Fletcher's testimony is "a complete backpedaling" of what he actually advised the governor in July and August. But Deleon Guerrero and Tebuteb, along with former representative and lieutenant governor Diego Benavente said Fletcher was under oath and knew that if he lies, he could go to jail for perjury.

"But what he was saying during the testimony was consistent with the committee's understanding of the contract. In other words, Mr. Fletcher is not lying. Everything he said under oath is justified," Deleon Guerrero said.

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