Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero dreaded Bill 12-37, a straightforward measure with a clear end: just show us the lease and tell us what you’re doing. Somehow, the bill got muddled in the quagmire of politics, often interpreted beyond its actual intent, creating political animosity. The governor feared it would pose a stumbling block to the construction of a new medical campus, her signature project that she hopes to stamp as her legacy.
Her attempt to railroad the signing of the lease agreement with the Navy by passing over the legislature only caused the Eagles Field transaction to hit a snag. Wait a minute! That’s not how things are done, Attorney General Douglas Moylan reminded her. The governor should know better. There’s a new eagled-eyed attorney general in town, who won’t acquiesce to anyone’s political whims.
At the Guam legislature, Speaker Therese Terlaje finally managed to convince her colleagues to take another look at Bill 12-37 and vote to override the governor’s veto of the measure.
Now a public law, Bill 12-37 mandates the governor to unfurl the lease and allow legislative and public scrutiny. Transparency is a timeless concept of democracy, after all.
Any attempt by the governor to further challenge this would only stagnate the project’s progress. We are a litigious community. A questionable contract is likely to be taken to court, where the case may languish for many long years. Guam is a veteran of watching legal histrionics. The case might stretch out well beyond Gov. Leon Guerrero’s term in Adelup. In which case, she might just miss the credit she is aspiring for.
We don’t really see any clear reason for the Navy to pressure the government of Guam into signing the lease based on its extreme deadline of one month. After all, the military has already agreed to lease the property to the local government.
We need to build a new medical facility on Guam. There’s no question about it. And no one can question Speaker Terlaje’s persistent demand to let the people of Guam know what is being signed on their behalf. Elected officials have limited terms in office. Any lingering consequences that may result from an unexamined transaction are burdens that will be shouldered by future generations, who don’t have the luxury to say, “Nope, not my problem.”
While the governor explained that the revised lease commits federal money for the first month’s rent, it is not clear where the succeeding payments would come from. If in the end, we the taxpayers are bound to inherit the rest of the 99-year obligation, we must know what we are paying for.
Bill 12-37 is founded on an existing law— upheld by the courts— that mandates legislative approval for any property leases beyond five years.
The 99-year lease for a $1 billion project will be inspected and questioned. The process might get derailed or face gridlock. But that is the nature of democracy. This system of governance entails adequate checks and balances to protect the people from governmental excess. We learned this in civics class, but people we elect in office need constant reminders.
Openness and transparency are fundamental components to build accountability and public trust, which are imperative in the functioning of democracies.