Land lease transparency bills vetoed
Governor claims legislature's attempts to obstruct Guam hospital project are driven by 'intense thirst for power'
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has vetoed a pair of bills requiring transparency in the government of Guam’s land transactions, saying the measure would impede the administration’s hospital project in Mangilao.
"Let's be clear: these bills are not about transparency, they are about control. These obstructionist politicians are frustrated with the fact that they cannot direct or control the executive branch's efforts to establish the new hospital," the governor said in vetoing Bill 12-37 and Bill 13-37 on Monday.
"Their intense thirst for power has driven these politicians to mislead and manipulate our people to support their political ends," she said in her veto message.
The 37th Guam Legislature unanimously passed Speaker Therese Terlaje's Bill 12-37, which would require legislative approval for the purchase or lease of property owned by the federal or foreign governments for terms in excess of five years.
“This bill injects the legislature into the work of establishing a hospital, which will mire the project in politics and bureaucracy while derailing the coordinated and careful planning by subject-matter experts from executive branch agencies,” the governor said.
The companion legislation, Bill 13-37, seeks to require the inclusion of representatives from the legislature in the 21st Century Healthcare Center Committee tasked with the procurement of contractors for the medical complex.
The bills' passage was one of the senators’ repeated attempts to obtain details of the Navy’s soon-to-be-signed lease agreement with the governor involving the Eagles Field property, where a new $1-billion medical campus is proposed to be built.
Last week, Sen. Thomas Fisher sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the governor, seeking documents pertaining to the 99-year lease.
“I agree with the governor that we need a new hospital and Eagles Field may be the perfect place for it, but we as Guam’s legislative branch can’t even opine because we don’t even know what is included in the lease,” Fisher said.
“For a project that may obligate our people to a century-long contract at a cost of over $1 billion, Guam’s lawmakers must be involved. For now, we just want information,” he added.
In an earlier statement, Terlaje said, “The public has a right to know what they are being committed to for potentially 99 years or more, that in the end when bearing the burden of the costs, the people of Guam are satisfied with the product.”
The governor, however, rejected the proposed legislative scrutiny.
“This completely obstructs the establishment of critical infrastructure to a degree it endangers the health and well-being of our people,” she said. “Are some senators simply trying to prevent the governor from building a hospital because they don’t want her to get the credit? Who cares who gets the credit?”
The governor maintained that transactions involving the project are within her authority under the Organic Act.
'The legal reality is that the legislature was never intended to have control over the establishment, operation, or maintenance of public health facilities, including hospitals," she said. "These powers have always been delegated by the Organic Act to the governor of Guam."
The construction of a new hospital that will replace the aging Guam Memorial Hospital is the governor’s signature project, which she promised to be completed before the end of her second term.
The medical complex will be built on a 102-acre ancestral property acquired by the Navy after the war.
"The ancestral landowners who own the largest parcels of land in the area would prefer to receive monetary compensation over land back," Leon Guerrero said.
She reiterated that the Department of Defense is willing to lease this property at no cost to GovGuam.
“Our federal partners are also willing to chip in and help find federal funding sources for these new facilities,” the governor said.
“The bottom line is that Guam needs a new hospital. With this lease, we have an unprecedented opportunity to partner with the Department of Defense and build a new state-of-the-art medical complex which will include a new headquarters for behavioral health, public health, a veterans clinic, and a new hospital that will be able to serve civilian and military personnel alike.”