Amid public criticisms and pressure from the legislature to bring transparency on the administration's disbursements of Guam's $117 million share of the federal CARES Act grant, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has announced her decision to hire an independent auditor to review the Covid-19 fund expenditures.
"First, as a business woman and governor, I have always valued independent, third party review of programs and their related expenses. For this reason, as always, we will fully comply with any audit requirements given to us by the Office of Public Accountability and I have ordered the procurement of an independent third-party reviewer for federal funds used during this response effort," the governor said at her press conference on Tuesday.
The governor announced her government's new transparency initiative hours after the Guam senators voted 14-1 to override her veto of Bill 333-35, which requires her to submit a report to the legislature detailing the Covid-19 expenditure.
While saying the CARES Act grant spending layout does not require legislative approval, Leon Guerrero said her government will submit to a third party review concurrently with audits by the Office of the Public Accountability's audits and the federal government.
"Adding to our increased transparency efforts, effective immediately, responses provided by any executive branch line agency to requests for documents related to this emergency will be submitted to the Attorney General’s Office to post on its website. This submission will be made no more than two days from the date of the response to the Sunshine Act request," the governor said.
"All line agencies will compile responses provided relative to this disaster since the declaration of the public health emergency on March 14 and submit them to the Attorney General’s Office. This will allow every citizen the opportunity to regularly review documents secured under FOIA and our responses to them."
The governor issued an executive order establishing the Covid -19 Pandemic Recovery Office to act as a single repository of information related to Covid--19 response and recovery.
"The Recovery Office shall be responsible for working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency relative to the current disaster and is authorized to provide information, assurances, requests, or justifications on behalf of the Governor of Guam. Additionally, the Recovery Office shall support the work of the Governor's Guam Recovery Panel of Advisors," the executive order reads.
The directive also states that the governor's office will provide monthly of expenditures for goods and services in response to and directed toward recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and this public health emergency, or any extension. These reports shall be transmitted to the Legislature and posted on the website of the Office of the Governor.
Also on Tuesday, the governor issued a public apology for muting reports reporters during a live sttreaming press conference on Tuesday last week"There was no intention of censorship at all, there was no intention of censorship," the governor said. "The fact that it was muted, it was muted because I know the guidelines were certain guidelines and it wasn’t being followed and that’s it is what it is and people have so I am going to be together with great respect, honesty, and truth. Yes, I apologize for the mistake that happened. People make mistakes, government makes mistakes and I am not ashamed to say we made a mistake and so I apologize."
Last week, Speaker Tina Muna Barnes wrote to Public Auditor Benjamin Cruz requesting that OPA conduct an audit of the administration's handling of the CARES Act funds.
"As millions of dollars have already been spent – and hundreds of millions more is yet to enter our government and economy, I join the public in the sense that we must ensure that these funds are expended appropriately," Muna Barnes stated in her letter to Cruz. "I understand that for an audit to be conducted, the action must first occur in order to evaluate such act. I am sure that once these funds are expended, I will be getting a report from your office. If there is any legislation that you may need to assist you in your mission – please let me know and I commit to you my full support on this."