SAIPAN – Rather than a “wholesale repeal” of the provisions of the Government Ethics Code pertaining to public official financial disclosure, the attorney general said the Legislature should just amend the law.

Edward Manibusan

Edward Manibusan

Attorney General Edward Manibusan on Nov. 5 sent his written comment on House Bill 21-74, which proposes to repeal the statutes relating to public officials’ financial disclosures.

Manibusan noted that the bill proposes to repeal all the existing provisions in the Ethics Code pertaining to financial disclosure.

The AG told House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations Chairman Joel Camacho that rather than a “wholesale” repeal of all provisions, lawmakers should consider “inserting amendments to expand the financial information that officials must report on and eliminate the restriction on inspecting the financial disclosure reports required of officials.”

House Minority Leader Edwin Propst introduced H.B. 21-74, which is titled the Public Official Disclosure Act of 2019.

Public Law 8-11, also known as the Government Ethics Code Act of 1992, requires public officials to submit their financial statement of interest to the Office of the Public Auditor. But such financial statements are “kept strictly confidential unless the person required to file a statement of financial interest has given the public auditor prior written approval.”

Propst’s H.B. 21-74 would require that “all reports filed pursuant to this section shall be maintained by the Office of the Public Auditor as public records available for inspection.”

According to the bill, “Copies of the reports shall be furnished to the public, upon the payment of reasonable copying fees.”

The bill would also require the public auditor to certify that an official or candidate has filed his report as required by law.

H.B. 21-74 states that the people have the right to know if public officials have become enriched while holding modest paying positions or if politicians have made questionable or suspicious economic gains while in public office.

It further states that “the people have the right to know which public servants turned average salaries into extraordinary wealth and holdings.”

The bill would “only impair those who seek to conceal wealth and hide assets. In the spirit of transparency, accountability, and good governance, it is imperative that we embrace and follow public disclosure laws that exist in nearly all states and territories.”