With the termination of State Historic Preservation Officer Lynda Aguon, the Leon Guerrero-Tenorio administration has set a new standard for “ethical behavior” expected of government officials.
Based on Aguon’s termination, no longer should mayors, vice mayors, department heads, deputy department heads, and administrative service officers be allowed to use government vehicles to drop children off at school, take vehicles home after hours, or use them to go to lunch.
After all, one of the reasons Aguon was fired was her use of a government vehicle to deliver a grievance (which is technically a work function). Then all government officials and managers need to be held to the same ethical standard. This action is clearly a case that should be before the ethics commission, except the ethics commission is not active.
A problem in government that is pervasive, divisive and expensive needs to be addressed: corruption.
We were warned this would happen over 200 years ago when Thomas Jefferson wrote: “So, it should not be surprising if sometimes public officials do not heed the voice of the people and go about doing whatever they wish, using their power and authority to enrich themselves and those closely allied to them.”
Government corruption takes many forms. It can be the awarding of contracts without bids, or awarding contracts to companies that don’t meet the bid requirements but have connections, such as the failed contract to renovate Simon Sanchez High School, awarded to a company with no construction experience, whose major qualification was the owner was related to the governor.
Corruption happens when officials decide to violate rules and regulations because they can. When the Mayors' Council of Guam doubled Executive Director Angel Sablan’s salary without following proper procedures, it diverted $75,000 taxpayer dollars a year away from buying two badly needed police cars (a year) required to keep us safe.
When the MCOG awarded the contracts for games of chance to bidders that included people with criminal records and members of the MCOG, that was an act of corruption. When Department of Public Works employees used government-owned equipment to do side jobs, that was corruption.
When senators in the 32nd Legislature met in secret session and gave themselves a massive retroactive pay raise, that was corruption. When Gov. Eddie Calvo gave his staff bonuses against Guam law, it was corruption. And when he gave them a second bonus check to be used to repay the first illegal bonus, it was corruption times two. When government of Guam employees are selling driver’s licenses and high school diplomas, that’s corruption.
When an emergency procurement contract to feed prisoners runs for years on a month-to-month basis, that’s corruption. When officials raid special funds for different purposes, that’s corruption. When officials use their powers to transfer public lands into private hands, that’s corruption.
Every time corruption is allowed to go unpunished, taxpayers end up paying the bill. The toll over the past five years to taxpayers has been tens of millions of dollars.
The problem with corruption is that everyone knows it is happening, but feels there is nothing they can do about it. Most refuse to say anything out of fear of retaliation. That fear is justified when you look at the facts in the case of Adelup versus Aguon.
Who will stand up against corruption if we can’t count on politicians to do so?
Jefferson gave us the answer when he wrote: “There is only one force in the nation that can be depended upon to keep the government pure and the governors honest, and that is the people themselves.”
Our history has proven we can’t count on officials to police themselves, so it becomes incumbent on the people to do so. We need to pass legislation that gives the people the power to hold government officials and employees accountable when they engage in corrupt practices.
We most likely are going to have to do it through a voter initiative process. The good news is we have plenty of time to make this happen before the 2020 election.
Ken Leon-Guerrero is spokesperson of Guam Citizens for Public Accountability.