Tensions were high Tuesday night as lawmakers grilled the Hagatna Restoration and Redevelopment Authority (HRRA) on the lack of documentation for nearly $200,000 of taxpayer money spent in early 2019.
During the committee oversight hearing on the HRRA, senators neither hid their frustration nor minced words.
Speaking on the documents in question, Speaker Tina Muna Barnes emphatically said, “We don’t have copies of anything…Just show me! Show me something! [Even] if documents are in a preliminary stage, which I find very difficult, because if you complete a project, it should be ready to rock and roll to come here [to the committee].”
During the hearing, senators continuously questioned the HRRA board chair, Maria Leon Guerrero, and HRRA Director, Lasia Casil, over documentation they claim is lacking to account for $196,000 paid out in February 2019.
Senators say they have been asking repeatedly for these documents over the past year and the HRRA has been dodging their requests. They say they had no choice but to issue Freedom of Information Act requests and most recently, a subpoena for these documents.
Senators are looking for a variety of documents including invoices, deliverables, reports, board minutes and anything else that could help them understand what exactly the $196,000 was spent on.
With budget hearings around the corner, Sen. Joe San Agustin, chair of the appropriations committee, made it clear that he needs to know how taxpayer dollars were spent before any more funding is doled out to the HRRA.
“If you can’t provide deliverables to me, and the other colleagues, [your] budget is not going to go up any further, it may even go down,” San Agustin warned.
It’s important to know that the current board was instated after the $196,000 was already spent. Speaker Barnes acknowledged this fact on several occasions during the hearing, saying she’s not laying blame on this current board, but that she and other senators have been patient with the new board, as they backtrack on a previous administration’s work to find answers.
Barnes says that even if any document is not final, in draft, preliminary or any other stage, she wants to see it.
In their defense, board chair Maria Leon Guerrero made it clear that the HRRA is not hiding anything or withholding documentation. She said they have to review documents before they go to the committee and that’s why there are delays.
“We just want to ensure as a board that whatever we’re turning over, we can stand behind it, that we are aware of the details, and we can be confident in what is being handed over,” said Leon Guerrero.
HRRA commissioner Nick Keswani is currently conducting an internal desk audit of the HRRA to retrace and account for all the money being paid out.
He is gathering documentation such as reports, correspondence, invoices, deliverables, and other materials, that could help account for the money.
This audit was started in November and when complete, it should, in theory, answer all of the senators’ questions and concerns.
Senator Kelly Marsh-Taitano, the chair of the oversight committee, gave the HRRA until Jan. 31 to turn over documents requested in one of the Freedom of Information requests.
This oversight hearing will continue on Thursday, Jan. 23, and senators involved have suggested bringing in Matrix to testify to work produced for the money. Matrix is the company contracted by the board for many reports and deliverables.