White-collar government crime pays
“More money has been stolen with the point of a pen, than at the point of a gun.”
— Warren Buffet, chairman of the Board Berkshire Hathaway
Government of Guam is bleeding the death of a thousand paper cuts, and more money goes out than goes in. Many of the bleeding dollars are the results of government employees’ misuse and abuse of their positions and power. So far, the government has proven itself incapable of investigating itself in these cases.
As a result, some of our bureaucrats and employees look at using government assets as a way to improve their personal financial situation. Think back to the DPW employees discovered using DPW equipment to do side jobs. What happened to them? Think about the DPW plumber awarded $700,000 in back pay because of mistakes made by DPW management. Whatever happened to the DPW managers who cost taxpayers nearly a million dollars when you add attorney fees? What happened to the Guam Port managers who screwed up when they fired the Port Seven that so far has cost taxpayers a couple of million dollars in back pay and attorney fees?
Think back to the illegal pay raises and bonuses issued during the Calvo administration that were never returned, and no legal actions filed because the attorney general disqualified herself as her office represented the government.
Think about the director and politicians who were helping themselves to Chamorro Land Trust Commission properties. Whatever happened to them?
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has impaneled an Ethics Commission for the first time in 30 years. But that is still a government agency beholden to the appointing and funding authorities, so there is public perception that it is a “toothless tiger” – all show and no bite.
What happened to managers at GEDA who resurrected a dead contract and offered it to Guam Resource Recovery Partners that ended up with several extended lawsuits against government of Guam that have over the years cost taxpayers close to a million dollars?
What happened to government employees who used government vehicles and taxpayer-funded gas cards as if they owned them? What happened to government employees who keep government paid travel miles that were intended to be used to send people off island for medical treatment?
Nothing happened to them, but taxpayers got stuck with the cost in every case. It is bad enough that the economy of Guam has stagnated over the years while the size and cost of the government continues to expand. Rather than reduce the size and cost of government to reflect the real economy on Guam, our politicians continue to use the government like their own personal ATM; dispensing high paying jobs and contract to loyal supporters, all paid for by taxpayers.
And there lies the problem — government employees and politicians who use or abuse their positions and power to improve the financial security of themselves and their supporters regardless of laws, rules or regulations. Let’s look at Angel Sablan, the executive director of the Mayor’s Council of Guam, as an example.
Sablan was appointed to a position that paid $45,000 a year. At the time when the government is struggling to find money to pay its bills, he was able to arm-wrestle his income to over $98,000 year, with no public oversight, to manage a total of seven people. Compare him to the Governor of Guam who was elected and is paid $90,000 a year to supervise over 5,000 employees and manage a budget of more than $800 million.
Sablan is the poster child of appointed managers ripping off taxpayers. We as citizens, need the ability to bring legal actions against government of Guam personnel who abuse their positions and powers to enrich themselves at taxpayers’ expense because the government has proven itself incapable of doing so.
As proof, I offer the CLTC’s report on the illegal lot assignments in 2017, where it found “nothing illegal happened.”
A lot of people I talk to share similar stories of government employees or managers engaging in questionable practices, but they see no point in reporting them because nothing will happen.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has impaneled an Ethics Commission for the first time in 30 years. But that is still a government agency beholden to the appointing and funding authorities, so there is public perception that it is a “toothless tiger” – all show and no bite. The legislature’s own ethics committee has proven itself to be just as toothless and just as useless.
When I and others filed ethics complaints against senators in the 33rd Legislature, their peers found our charges “without merit.” When we attempted to bring actions against government officials through the Attorney General’s Office, we were told that only government agencies could engage the AG’s office, leaving citizens without a voice to speak truth to power.
The time has come for the people to hold government managers and employees accountable for their actions, and the only way we can do that is to create a version of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Commonly known as RICO, this law provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.
Government of Guam (we hope) is not an ongoing criminal organization — though some of its managers and employees may use the power of their positions to benefit themselves and/or their supporters.
We were warned this would happen 236 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.”
That is why using the Voter Initiative Process, we need to pass the “Corrupt Practices Act.” This will allow citizens to bring legal actions against government employees who misuse or abuse the power of their positions for their own benefit, or the benefit of others, against the common good of taxpayers and citizens.
Since history has proven beyond all shadow of doubt that the citizens can’t depend on the government to police itself, we are going to have do it ourselves, and passing the Corrupt Practices Act will give citizens the tool necessary to hold government employees accountable for their actions.
Ken Leon-Guerrero is the spokesperson of Guam Citizens for Public Accountability. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org