• By Pacific island Times News Staff

Guam's community watchdog asks governor to lift the shroud of secrecy


(Udpated)

Frustrated by the administration's penchant for withholding information related to government affairs, the Vigilance Committee today petitioned Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero to order her directors "to lead their agencies with the spirit of our transparency laws instead of holding information hostage from the public."

"The lack of government transparency should have us all worried, especially, when public officials use phrases such as 'leaked to the media' or demonstrate a willfulness to withhold information from the public," said Lee Webber, president of the Vigilance Committee. "The governor has an opportunity to do the right thing by ordering her directors and government officials to disclose information requested through the use of our transparency laws."

Webber said there is no provision in the Sunshine law that prohibits the disclosure of public records.

"Plainly speaking, it's a choice between leading with transparency or responding with excuses. The people of Guam deserve transparency, not excuses," Webber said.

Citing a recent media report, Webber said Public Health Director Art San Agustin rejected requests for information regarding the identity of establishments or organizations where Covid-19 cases have been found "recognizing the legal liability as a department."

"The committee said San Agustin has demonstrated his willfulness to withhold or to disclose information to the public. The willfulness to withholding information from the public has everything to do with excuses and very little to do with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or a legal opinion from the attorney general of Guam," the committee said in a press release.

On Oct. 29, the group sent a Sunshine Act request to Ray Topasna, executive director of the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority (GHURA), demanding public records identifying the names of two lawmakers who have been identified as having conflict of interests with the federally funded housing program with GHURA.

However, in response to the Sunshine Act request, Topasna had GHURA legal counsel deny the committee's request for public records citing attorney-client privilege.

Another example of Topasna demonstrating his willfulness to withhold or to disclose information to the public was reported by a media outlet's questions about a four-page letter, dated Oct. 28, by Mark A. Chandler, director of the Office of Community Planning and Development at Housing and Urban Development.

Topasna responded, "I prefer not to comment on this at this time... it's quite strange that this was leaked to the press."

Webber said "it is evident that the four-page letter was a public document and subject to the Sunshine Act, yet to characterize public information as 'leaked' is to cause a disservice to the spirit of our transparency laws."

"The mission of the Vigilance Committee is to promote ways to improve the dissemination and disclosure of information to the general public by advocating for compliance with the Open Government Law and the Sunshine Reform Act by public officials and government representatives," Webber said.

In response, Press Secretary Krysta; Paco said, the administration values the Guam Sunshine Act and everyone who works for the government "is instructed to comply with it as written. That's been our policy since day one and that has not changed."

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