Senators question the timing of AGO’s reopening
By Joyce McClure
Yap senators have summoned Gov. Henry Falan to appear before the Yap Legislature for the committee of the whole’s Oct. 15 hearing that will begin their drive to impeach the state’s chief executive.
On Sept. 23, seven senators of the 10-member Yap Legislature signed a resolution, seeking to remove Falan from office on charges of “misfeasance and malfeasance” that stemmed from his Sept. 16 move to shut down the Office of the Attorney General.
Article 5 Sec. 20 of the Yap State Constitution requires that three-fourths of the members must vote to oust the governor.
Falan will be represented by Marstella Jack, an attorney from Pohnpei.
“The governor’s duty is to faithfully execute the law which does not provide for the closure of the office unless the relevant provisions of the act are effectively amended by law. There are no current laws (or amendments) that provide for the closure of the office,” the resolution reads.
“The closure of the Office of the Attorney General substantially affects the successful performance of the duties of the Office of the Governor.”
The resolution states that Falan “gravely endangered and threatened the integrity of the democratic system of the government of the State of Yap,” and that his action “warrants removal from office for misfeasance and malfeasance in office.”
Falan agreed that the action does seriously affect the executive branch, but his action in issuing the order, he said, was unavoidable due in part to the lack of approval and authorization by the legislature for supplemental funds that he had requested in March to pay the salaries of the state’s two attorneys general.
As stated in Falan’s Sept. 16 executive order, the legislature “removed the budget for all vacancies in fiscal year (FY) 2021 without proper consultation with the executive branch.”
The AG’s office “is one of the offices affected by the shortfall in their personnel budget” that resulted in the legislature’s questioning the legality of the governor’s supplemental budget request.
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All agree that the money is available, but the legislature’s legal counsel and the attorney general disagree on the legality of the all-up method used historically to manage departmental funds after their line-item approval. One-to-one discussions between the governor and the speaker of the legislature to find a solution resulted in an impasse.
The two attorneys had not been paid for nearly two months when Falan closed their office stating that he “was forced to take this drastic step” to avoid the government being held liable for a possible charge “of human trafficking and abuse of constitutional rights” because both the attorney general and assistant attorney general are foreign citizens and contractual employees of the state.
Six days after closing the AG’s office, Falan re-opened it upon issuing an emergency declaration for “urgent assistance” for Ifalik Island, one of Yap’s Outer Islands, that has experienced “extensive destruction to the people of Ifalik Island’s main food source from salt water ingress and manifestation from drastic adverse weather pattern.”
When an emergency declaration is recommended by the state’s Emergency Task Force under the direction of the Office of Planning and Budget, Falan said through his spokesperson, “the reopening of the AG’s office is paramount to providing legal advice and legal sufficiency to the emergency declaration document before the governor’s endorsement.”
At the continuation of the public hearing on Sept. 24, senators questioned the timing and motivation of Falan’s emergency declaration and the re-opening of the AG’s office.
Sen. Jesse Raglmar-Sublomar noted that the emergency declaration was issued “nearly 10 months after that event happened; and we were informed that it is not possible to make a declaration for a single island at that time, but now the declaration is made for the same single island. Why that is alright now is a question.”
According to Falan’s spokesperson, the constitution and laws do not specify that more than one island or municipality must be impacted in order for an emergency declaration to be issued.
Floor Leader Jerry G. Fagolimul, who represents Ifalik, said he “appreciates very much the governor’s concern at this point of time by declaring a state of emergency in the name of my island.”
However, he added, “I wonder and I’m curious about the timing of this declaration, whether if it’s in the interest of the state or if it’s something that has come up to be constitutional in order to take care of mistakes.”
Just the same, Fagolimul said, he appreciated any assistance that can be provided.
“But I hope it doesn’t have to come in this Yap state emergency declaration. I hope my island and people are not used in the name of politics,” he added.
“The YSL and other concerned individuals are trying to politicize the emergency declaration that will address the food security needs of Ifalik’s approximately 580 residents,” Falan’s spokesperson said.
The Pacific Island Times tried to seek comments from the Yap State Legislature but was told they did not want to speak with the media.