• By Johanna Salinas

Governor to resort to emergency procurement again 'if necessary'

As the government of Guam and the business community slowly reopen, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has extended the public health emergency declaration through June 30.

With the directive providing her emergency powers, the governor said if a situation requires making a quick decision on acquiring services and supplies to respond to the Covid-19, she would again use her emergency authority for emergency procurements as she did during the onset of the coronavirus.

“This means if I do need to make that decision and we start seeing more positive cases again, and we shift back into the mode of PCOR 1 or PCOR 2, then yes, it will give me the authority to make that decision and the authority to purchase services, goods and so forth, as necessary in an emergency situation to prevent further spread and to protect our people and to save lives,” she said at Friday’s press conference.

Although businesses and the government are slowly reopening, Leon Guerrero believes that Guam is not yet “totally out of the woods.”

“We can still again see surges and see more positive cases. I’m hoping we don’t,” the governor said. “For me, to continue using personnel resources, using financial resources, using federal resources to provide for the necessary actions and decisions should these kinds of emergencies and should these kinds of circumstances occur, I would have to continue to declare a public health emergency. Moving forward, I’m hoping that maybe this will be the last declaration.”

If a large number of new cases occur in the next two to three weeks or a month, the governor said her public health emergency extension will allow her to take quick preventive measures.

“I’ll also continue doing that as long as we’re in PCOR 3 and when we go into PCOR 4, this is a situation now where we start planning for future pandemic,” she said.

Leon Guerrero wants the island to continue protecting themselves from Covid- 19. “The decision to continue public health emergency declaration is based on how we’re doing as a community. Now, because we’re slowly and gradually lifting, we still need to be in that period of time where we can do the monitoring, contact tracing and so forth,” she said.

The administration faced legislative and public scrutiny when it awarded contracts to hotels, laundry services, medical clinics and food suppliers without public bidding. The hotels were used as quarantine facilities for USS Theodore Roosevelt sailors and arriving passengers, who were provided government-funded meals.

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On May 21, Sen. Sabina Perez, chair of the Committee on Procurement, conducted an oversight hearing on emergency procurement.

"With little time to react, the pandemic has posed an unprecedented challenge for our people, and our institutional norms on all fronts — procurement included. Concerns were raised regarding the procurement of hotels for the quarantine, and the Committee on Procurement found it prudent to hold an oversight hearing to assess the process and ensure transparency," she said in a statement the following day.

While the committee received no complaint about the need to lease the hotels, Perez clarified that the oversight hearing was focused on the emergency procurement process itself, as used during the Covid19 pandemic, and ensure the government of Guam is following protocols consistent with local and federal guidelines for the reimbursement of emergency services.

"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 said. "The challenges brought to light during the oversight hearing elucidate these shortcomings. We must work to understand these mishaps and differences in legal interpretation, and use this knowledge to improve our efforts."

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Perez said she will be introducing a series of bills to strengthen Guam's procurement laws, beginning with legislation to expand and empanel the Guam Procurement Advisory Council.

"Procurement reform is long overdue. While protests were avoided with the hotel contracting, the process is open to differing interpretations of the law.," Perez said. "We must improve our regulations to have clear, prescribed procurement procedures that all parties agree upon. And, we must present a united front to address this ongoing threat to our island, the global coronavirus pandemic."

Sen. James Moylan noted that several questions remained unanswered during the oversight hearing.

"Nonetheless while no one questions the need of expeditiously attaining hotel facilities, the common concern that has risen on the matter is whether the process of acquiring was accurate and within legal realms. Further, the general theme since the declaration of the state of a public health emergency has been transparency and accountability, or rather the lack of," Moylan said.

While the island will remain under the emergency declaration for another 30 days, Moylan said the community needs to ask: "Do we as a legislative body continue to run around just to get answers on procurement matters and other activity that seems to be protected by these emergency powers, or do we include language in Chapter 19, which simply would mandate these answers?"

"No one in this body desires placing hindrances when it comes to assuring our community is safe, we just want to make sure that checks and balances exist. That is not just the fundamental responsibility of the legislative branch, but it is also what the people of Guam demand."

Moylan has introduced Bill 338-35 that requires more transparency in procurement.

"The legislation has yet to be referred to an appropriate committee, however with a regular session forthcoming, this measure is an emergency," he said. (With additional reports from Mar-Vic Cagurangan)

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