ELECTED and other government officials of the CNMI are either unaware or do not care that they have mislabeled the seat of the Commonwealth government. It is not Capitol Hill, and it was never Capitol Hill. It is Capital Hill. Yet all (or almost all) government-approved signs all over the island (see, for example, the legislative building) as well as all (or almost all) CNMI government documents, including many maps, say it is Capitol Hill.

About 16 years ago, we published an editorial written by Mr. Francisco C. Ada, the Commonwealth’s first lt. governor and the former Trust Territory district administrator of the NMI. He recounted how the then-Saipan Municipal Legislature adopted the name Capital Hill. This was in the early 1960s, he said, and Saipan was the capital of the U.S.-administered Trust Territory government whose administration building was on a hill (I Denni/Donni Hill). Hence, Capital Hill.

Today, many (if not almost all) CNMI government officials who say that they want to improve the government, the community if not our lives (or at least those of CNMI voters and their families) — these same officials cannot correct a simple typo or don’t know that it is a typo even after it has been pointed out (repeatedly). One small thing. Just one letter actually. They can’t or won’t do anything about it. But they assure us that they can and will “fix” or “solve” CNMI-wide and other major socio-economic problems, many of which have bedeviled previous well-intentioned, intelligent, sincere, reform-minded officials since, quite possibly, the end of World War II.

As for Capitol/Capital Hill: might as well make it official. Pass a law designating the area Capitol Hill. Or — this is probably what would happen anyway — ignore the few (the very few) who know that it is Capital not Capitol Hill. Soon, no one will remember what’s what.

***

Right now, not a lot of us realize that whenever we complain about government misdeeds we usually also propose to solve them with more government. We also deplore politicking politicians (as if there’s another kind), but we see no problem with having more elected officials (that is, politicians) as long as we can call them “non-partisan.”

How many of us still recall the arguments for having an elected, non-partisan attorney general?

Now how about an elected, non-partisan public auditor!

House Legislative Initiative 22-2, which has been introduced recently, declares in its “findings” (the “editorial” section of a legislative proposal) that the people and government of the NMI “rely on the Office of the Public Auditor to serve as guardian so that it ensures the effective and efficient administration and management of public funds and programs.”

Really? So the three other branches of government, their agencies, the elected AG, etc. — they’re not supposed to be “effective and efficient” administrator and manager of public funds and programs? What about all those laws that say they are?

Who cares? No one remembers anyway on Capital, er, Capitol Hill.

According to H.L.I. 22-2, the Office of the Public Auditor “should be free of political influence or interference.” Of course! And how do we do that? By transforming the public auditor into a politician — someone who solicits the support of voters, including and especially those who say they can command blocs of voters.

But the elected public auditor would be “non-partisan”! Like the other “non-partisan” elected officials of the CNMI, almost all of whom have either partisan backgrounds or are supporters/allies of the non non-partisan politicians.

Confused already?

There’s more!

H.L.I. 22-2 states that the “established practice” of appointing a public auditor “may create an uncompromising environment in which individuals with weak mental faculty inevitably succumb to pressures from undue political influence….”

But elected politicians who have to work in a politically charged environment and have to deal with politics every day  will not “inevitably succumb to pressures from undue political influence”? Apparently, they are “mentally stronger” than the highly educated, highly qualified men and woman who have served as CNMI public auditors.

Right.

H.L.I. 22-2 mentions that Guam has an elected public auditor “and as a result has significantly curbed the amount of misuse and cemented greater efficiency” in GovGuam.

Says who? H.L.I. 22-2 doesn’t say. Incidentally, Guam’s first elected public auditor is a former Republican senator, and her successor is a former Democratic senator. Both are highly respected, highly educated and more than qualified public servants. But many Guam residents are still going on and on about their government’s failures and waste and inefficiencies, etc.

H.L.I. 22-2, in any case,  claims “that in order for the Public Auditor to function without the appearance of bias, it is necessary to permit their overall performance to be directly appraised by the citizens of the Commonwealth….”

That is, the same citizens who elected the government officials who are so untrustworthy that they should be micro-managed by yet another elected official.

As human history has clearly and repeatedly shown, there is no silver bullet for what ails government and politics. Both involve people. And people are not angels. (Or, thank God, werewolves.)

H.L.I. 22-2, however, could provide a lot of political bullets to an elected public auditor. If this legislative initiative is ratified as drafted, CNMI voters would end up electing a colonial governor-general if not a feudal overlord. Here are some of the proposed responsibilities of the elected public auditor:

• “The Public Auditor shall submit to the CNMI Legislature on a continuous basis recommendations with respect to altering and amending the performance standards assigned to any CNMI government program, as well as recommendations with respect to procedures for evaluation compliance with or achievement of performance standards.” (My italics.)

• OPA “shall implement a continuous program of evaluation and justification review of all CNMI  government agencies and shall submit a report  of evaluation and justification of the review findings and recommendations to the Speaker of the CNMI House of Representatives, the President of the CNMI Senate, the department  head of the agency that was the subject of the review, and the head of any agency that is substantially affected by the findings and recommendations….” (My italics.)

• “Every government agency shall be subject to a program evaluation and justification review by the Public Auditor. Each agency shall offer its complete cooperation to the Public Auditor so that such review may be accomplished….”

There are more such “shalls” in H.L.I. 22-2 which was apparently drafted on the belief that the governor, whoever he or she is, will always need an official baby-sitter.

If H.L.I. 22-2 is ratified as drafted, those who like scolding/nagging people should run for public auditor. No need to deliver on next-to-impossible campaign pledges (which all boil down to a dire need for more funds that are usually non-existent). An elected public auditor’s main duty is point fingers, assign blame and call it a day.

If ratified as drafted, moreover, H.L.I. 22-2 would most likely result in a bigger Office of the Public Auditor with more personnel and, consequently, a budget that is much larger than what it has now.

Again, someone has to point out that the many issues that H.L.I. 22-2 wants to “address” are supposed to be addressed already by what’s already in the statute books and by already existing government agencies and offices.

Selective amnesia, however, seems to be widespread on Capi whatever Hill.

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Editor

Zaldy Dandan is the recipient of the Best Editorial Writer Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the CNMI Humanities Award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism. His four books are available on amazon.com

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