Webber chides GovGuam for lack of transparency over federal funds
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
How did the government of Guam deploy the unprecedented amount of Covid-relief funds it has received from the White House? The process remains foggy, according to the head of a local watchdog.
“In excess of $2 billion has slid through the fingers of government officials without a clear and definite open declaration of ‘to whom, where, when, why and how,” said Lee Webber, president of the Vigilance Committee, a nonprofit organization that advocates government transparency.
“It is appropriate in our government to require elected and appointed government officials and employees to act openly, transparently and in accordance with the law, rather than using their positions and the law to manipulate information to hide what they do and the manner in which they choose to do it,” he said.
Webber spoke at Monday’s inauguration ceremony for Attorney General Douglas Moylan at Hilton Guam Resort and Spa, where elected officials were in attendance, including Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero who was seated across from the podium.
Guam is a recipient of three sets of federal Covid-relief packages: the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020; the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 or CRRSAA; and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.”
Local economists estimated that Guam received a total of $8 billion in 2020 and 2021, including the stimulus funds received by the private sector, which provided a wide safety net that rescued the community from the pandemic-triggered economic fallout.
According to the Bureau of Budget and Management Resources’ July 31, 2022 report, the government has obligated $462.27 million of the $568.37 million received last year through the CRRSAA. As of the reporting period, $106 million remained available.
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In earlier reports, the Office of Public Accountability nudged the government over questioned and undocumented expenditures involving deals that were procured outside of the normal process by virtue of the governor's public health emergency declaration.
“Our government was created to establish law, order and stability in our free society. This is to be done for the benefit of the majority of the society, not a select few,” Webber said “But for some unknown reason, too many elected officials have forgotten for whom it is they work."
Webber reminded government officials that they “are not public servants." They are “employees of the taxpayers of Guam,” who are “neither special nor privileged,” he said. “As such the money and information with which they deal belongs to the public as well.”
Lawmakers are not beyond reproach either, Webber said.
“Another more recent problem has been the legislature’s seeming lapse in forgetting they are not an arm or rubberstamp of the executive branch but rather a separate, distinct and powerful branch of our government,” he said.
“They are responsible for making and changing laws and establishing the budget for the operations of our government—not hobnobbing or brown-nosing with the executive branch,” he added.
Webber, former publisher of the Pacific Daily News, did not spare the media from his criticisms.
“The fourth estate — though nongovernmental—in our system of governance is to be the press. Their job has historically been to hold the feet of the three government branches to the fire, exposing the wrongdoing and errors of those elected and appointed officials,” Webber said.
"In my opinion, they have lost sight of that critical responsibility. That responsibility serves as the warning light of balance in our free society—if in fact, we are to remain free," he added.