While I won't quote the Latin language, the Roman poet Juvenal in his "Satires" asked, “Who guards the guardians themselves?” In the public sector, elected officials and employees are supposed to rely on ethics as the internal guardian of official behavior. Over the years, I have noticed a very bad sign. The basic concept of simply following the law is ignored or put forward to the next person holding the position. The next set of public officials will, all else equal, hold their breath hoping that they won’t be held responsible – at least until they are out of office or retired.
On Guam, our Legislature, in its own sort of juvenile wisdom, has sought over the years to dice the government up in a number of ways that interfere with overall accountability. Almost 20 years ago, in the wake of major accounting firm scandals, the U.S. Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act commonly referred to as “SOX." In effect, one of the most trusted and respected professions in the United States had totally defaulted and failed in its duties. In response, Congress sought to hold corporations more accountable and specifically tasked their top managers with a duty to follow laws and basic corporate concepts.
In the case of the government of Guam, a lot of legislative effort has been made over the years to remove the governor from the duty of accountability. Oddly, the intention of these moves was to make the government more accountable. Instead, we have ended up with an overall lack of accountability. This brings up the question who is supposed to make sure that the laws of Guam are followed by the government? In the past, this role largely fell to the Office of the Governor. After the attorney general function was put into an elected fiefdom mode, I believe that this unity of purpose has significantly eroded. In effect, it is very difficult to get laws on Guam enforced at the most basic levels. In the past, the Legislature could effectively check executive behavior to ensure that laws were enforced. Now, the common reply is that there is no budget to enforce the law. A normal government should not have to operate this way.
As a simple example, in the last two weeks, I have talked about how the partisan primary – or anything other than a general election – is not appropriate for the governor or delegate to Congress positions. A general election, and if needed, a runoff election is called for. In 2018, there was a major controversy over the partisan primary. Four Democrat teams battled it out taking almost 26,000 votes and the Republican coasted into the general election with under 3,200 votes. Any one of the three Democrat teams could have simply challenged the legality of the primary and all five teams could have run in the general election. Unless one of the teams got a majority of the votes, the top two teams would have a runoff. If we followed the law.
Ron McNinch teaches at the University of Guam School of Business and Public Administration.