When I pose the following question to most Guamanians in passing – "What do you feel is the biggest problem facing GovGuam?" – the two most popular responses are "government corruption" or "the government's dire finances." And when I follow up with a second question – "Do you feel public corruption is the root cause of the government's dire finances?" – I get a firm "yes." Of course, I'd get a completely different answer if I were to ask these same questions of an appointed public official.
In November 2017 and then once again in February of this year, officials from the FBI openly stated that public corruption and fraud against the government are the FBI's top two priorities on Guam. They also announced that they have increased the number of federal agents and are now "fully staffed" to investigate these white-collar crimes.
In November 2005, Public Law 28-76, the Responsible Boards and Commissions Act, was passed into law and required all appointed officials – including board/commission members, directors and deputy directors – to attend an "Ethics in Government" training program. Then in May 2013, Gov. Eddie Calvo signed Public Law 32-031, which mandates training requirements beyond "Ethics in Government" and that the governor's office oversee this training. There are more than 500 board/commission members who have been appointed and serve the Calvo-Tenorio administration.
While serving as special assistant to the governor from 2013 to 2016, I was tasked with ensuring full compliance with this statute by the Aug. 8, 2013, deadline. I immediately started working with the Guam Community College to develop a curriculum that conforms to the statute. The curriculum included training in procurement, ethics in government, Freedom of Information Act requests, Open Government Law, Robert's Rules of Order and policy making versus micro-management. This educational program was made available on CD format as well as via email, and distributed to all departments and agencies. Each agency head was directed to ensure that board/commission members received "live" training, and the respective agency head had to certify that this particular training had occurred. Each board or commission member also had to sign a certification that they had completed the "live" training and understood the material.
Violating the public trust
It is perplexing that countless board/commission members of the Calvo-Tenorio administration, who certified completion of an educational program in compliance with Public Law 32-031, continually violate the public trust as made evident by the following audits, legal opinions or court actions: Chamorro Land Trust land lease fiasco, which led to a legal opinion by the attorney general voiding certain leases and declaring others "voidable"; $40 million in real estate taxes uncollected or forgone by the Department of Revenue and Taxation; audit into the Guam Regional Transit Authority identifying $11 million spent without a valid contract and daily overbillings; $154 million luxury retail concession contract at the airport voided by the Superior Court of Guam due to procurement violations; the former Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority board's conspiracy charges in the Superior Court; $14 million arbitration award to Guam YTK at the Port Authority of Guam; Guam Economic Development Authority travel expenditures exceeding $540,000 in a single year; Joint Commission findings and Office of Inspector General audit related to Guam Memorial Hospital; retroactive pay raises at Adelup deemed illegal by the attorney general; $100 million Simon Sanchez High School bid award protests upheld by the Office of Public Accountability; a 2017 audit identifying potential fraud and misuse of Department of Public Works heavy equipment; $89,000 in questioned costs for 2016 Festival of the Pacific Arts; and the list goes on and on.
It is even more perplexing that some of these appointed GovGuam officials would dare to engage in possible misconduct after the FBI announcement, on two separate occasions, that the Guam office was prioritizing the investigation of public corruption and fraud against the government.
As I quickly add up the total cost of these acts by appointed public officials of the Calvo-Tenorio administration, the number is alarming: more than $370 million. A good portion of this amount was paid for by Guam and U.S. taxpayers.
So, the next question I would like to pose is to our Guam FBI office: "Are you certain that your office is fully staffed to investigate public corruption on Guam?" I would compare public corruption here to a police officer who pulls over a driver for running a red light. During the 20 minutes it took for the officer to write the traffic ticket, 30 cars had run the same red light and were not cited. Perhaps this is the reason public corruption is so prevalent on Guam and has now become the FBI's top priority.
Was Magellan correct when he named a certain island group "Islas de Los Ladrones"? I trust the only way we can change this labeling is for everyone to report public corruption and fraud to the proper authorities.
Ray Topasna is a former deputy and executive director of the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority, and former special assistant to Gov. Eddie Calvo. He is a supporter of the Leon Guerrero-Tenorio gubernatorial campaign.