Public auditor among 61 candidacy filers

CRUZ: Benjamin Cruz filed his candidacy papers on Wednesday seeking reelection as public auditor. Post file photo

Public Auditor Benjamin Cruz is seeking records from the governor and other officials on the procurement of hotels used for COVID-19 quarantine, in the midst of media reports and senators' inquiries about the administration's methods and spending.

The letters won't make him "very popular" with some people, Cruz told senators on Friday.

The review will cover the executive, legislative and the judicial branches, Cruz said. Cruz said he is working to have the audits completed before the end of fiscal 2020, which is Sept. 30.

The public auditor also told senators that his office is seeking records on double pay, differential pay and other additional compensation during the public health state of emergency.

Front-line workers have been demanding double pay for working during the coronavirus pandemic. The administration has said employees from, among a few others, Guam Memorial Hospital and Department of Public Health and Social Services, aren't able to collect double pay because their agencies weren't completely shut down – one of the requirements for double pay.

There have been two lawsuits filed to compel the government to pay essential employees the emergency double pay. Additionally, senators are considering multiple bills that would provide some level of compensation.

Federal funds

Overall, the government of Guam expects about $1.3 billion in federal COVID-19-related funds that need to be scrutinized and accounted for, senators said. The bulk of that comes to Guam in the form of unemployment benefits and economic impact payments.

Cruz, in a legislative hearing on the Office of the Public Accountability's proposed 2021 budget, said his office is looking into the governor's budgeting of the nearly $118 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Support Act funds to be used specifically by the local government for COVID-19 response efforts.

"We are reviewing her proposed budget and making recommendations and findings on the efficacy of any of the provisions that are being asked. So those three are ongoing, plus we want to get our financial audits out by end of next month," the public auditor told appropriations committee chairman Sen. Joe San Agustin, Speaker Tina Muna Barnes and other senators.

In a May 21 email to Department of Administration Director Edward Birn, the OPA sought a listing of all GovGuam entities that DOA provides payroll accounting and services for.

This is prior to OPA sending an engagement letter to relevant agencies.

During Friday's budget hearing, Cruz told senators OPA is also sending letters to the Legislature and the Judiciary to get records of who are getting differential and double pay during the pandemic.

The speaker and others asked the public auditor whether OPA has already received funding from the CARES Act.

There's a proposed $3.9 million going to the Office of the Attorney General, OPA and other agencies.

But Cruz said OPA is "a little leery about accepting money" from the CARES Act since it's a subject of OPA review. The public auditor said OPA wants to maintain its independence.

Letter to the governor

OPA's performance audit seeks "to determine whether the procurement of hotels used for COVID-19 quarantine was conducted in accordance (with) applicable rules and regulations."

"We will be conducting interviews and obtaining documents as part of the audit to better understand the functions, processes and operations of the Government of Guam relative to the procurement of hotels used for COVID-19 quarantine," Cruz said in a May 21 letter to Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero.

The public auditor sent similar letters to General Services Agency Chief Procurement Officer Claudia Acfalle, Homeland Security Advisor Tim Aguon, and Public Health Director Linda Unpingco-DeNorcey.

The audit's scope covers the timeframe of the emergency declaration in March, and is subject to change based on information gathered through preliminary review.

Using emergency procurement powers, GovGuam selected and paid hotels used for quarantine prior to any contracts being signed. Among the hotels were Pacific Star Resort & Spa, Hotel Santa Fe, Days Inn and Wyndham Garden.

Unpingco-DeNorcey's electronic signature allegedly was used, without her knowledge, on certain documents.

Sen. Sabina Perez and other members of the legislative procurement committee on Thursday night held an oversight hearing on GovGuam's hiring and payment of quarantine hotels.

"While I believe procurement efforts were undertaken in good faith, there is nevertheless a clear gap between procurement law and the Emergency Powers Act," Perez later said.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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