CNMI Governor Called To Withdraw From Fund Settlement

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Settlement ‘violates constitutional provisions’: Janet Maratita

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept. 20, 2013) – Rep. Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan) prefiled yesterday a resolution urging Gov. Eloy S. Inos to reconsider and withdraw from the Northern Mariana Islands Retirement Fund settlement agreement, saying that pursuing the terms that violate the NMI Constitution "clearly constitutes the impeachable offense of neglect of duty under Article 3 Section 19."

Maratita prefiled House Joint Resolution 18-35 about a month after writing a letter to the governor claiming that the settlement agreement with retiree Betty Johnson is "unconstitutional."

The resolution has two co-sponsors as of yesterday: Reps. Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) and Ray Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan).

This also came days after the House adopted a joint resolution urging the governor to oppose the over $40 million proposed fees by Johnson’s attorneys.

But that adopted joint House resolution supports the settlement agreement itself; it only objects to the attorneys’ fees as currently proposed.

The Inos administration maintains that the settlement agreement "is the only deal that provides certainty for the members."

Some senators also signed off on a Senate resolution on Wednesday expressing support for retirees who elect to exercise their option to opt out of the settlement deal and formally tender their request for exclusion pursuant to section 2.0 of the proposed settlement agreement.

Maratita, in her six-page resolution, said the settlement agreement violates five constitutional provisions, including the separation of powers doctrine, the legislative entrenchment doctrine, and the governor’s oath of office.

She said the governor may be legally unconstitutional "because inter alia they violate the separation of powers doctrine, violate Article 10, Section 3, and Article 3, Sections 9 and 20 of the CNMI Constitution, and therefore, because such actions constitute ‘neglect of duty’, such actions on the part of the governor may be grounds for impeachment under Article 3, Section 19 of the CNMI Constitution."

Maratita said the CNMI Legislature is not a party to the lawsuit and has never been afforded an opportunity to participate in a meaningful manner despite the need for "legislative action" as required by paragraphs 12.0 and 34.0 of the settlement deal.

The lawmaker also cited Article 3 Section 20 of the NMI Constitution, which states in part that "membership in an employee retirement system of the Commonwealth shall constitute a contractual relationship. Accrued benefits of this system shall be neither diminished nor impaired."

"Governor Eloy S. Inos will commit a grievous wrong by violating the express language of Article 3, Section 20 of the CNMI Constitution by diminishing the benefits of CNMI retirees by 25 percent and possibly more under the plain terms of the settlement agreement that he supports," Maratita said in her resolution.

HJR 18-35 says the proposed settlement agreement will adversely affect governmental operations and the CNMI’s wellbeing by obligating $25 million in 2014, $27 million in 2015, $30 million in 2016, and so forth, to the settlement deal.

The resolution says these amounts will constitute a public debt that has never been legally approved by the constitutionally required two-third of the Legislature.

Maratita said even assuming that the 18th CNMI Legislature was willing to provide legislative approval, no one legislature or governor can legally bind the actions of a subsequent legislature or governor for the period of 2014 to 2024 because such future actions would potentially subject these public officials to personal liability.

She also says any serious violation of the NMI Constitution constitutes an impeachable offense of neglect of duty.

Lastly, Maratita said the governor committed the CNMI to pay without knowing the amount it will cost the CNMI taxpayers—over $40 million in attorneys’ fees.

The administration is also opposed to the over $40 million proposed plaintiff attorneys’ fees, but not the settlement agreement.

The administration hopes the court will slash the proposed attorneys’ fees.

Maratita’s citing of impeachable offense comes seven months after former governor Benigno R. Fitial stepped down on Feb. 20, days before the start of his impeachment trial at the Senate. It was the first time in CNMI history that the House of Representatives impeached a governor.

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