Local war claims bill stirs up tension again; Congressman, legislative and executive branches clash over Bill 181

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Administration officials testified yesterday on the local war claims bill.

 

Is politics getting in the way of war claims being paid out to World War II survivors? Tension is building between Congressman Michael San Nicolas’s office and the legislative and executive branches, especially with discussion on a local measure that seeks to compensate survivors with adjudicated claims.

During Committee of the Whole on Tuesday, lawmakers and members of the executive branch shifted their focus to Bill 181-35, authored by Speaker Tina Muña Barnes. The measure expedites the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act, which authorizes the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission to accept and adjudicate claims and direct the Secretary of the Treasury to make adjudicated claim payments.

The bill also creates the 75th Guam Liberation War claims fund and authorizes the governor to transfer $7.5 million from FY2019 General Fund appropriations for the purposes of compensating war claim survivors.

The intent is that money will be repaid back to the Government of Guam with the passage of Congressman Michael San Nicolas’s H.R. 1365.

But the big looming question was why the congressman or a representative from the congressman’s office was not present.

Speaker Barnes says she tried to communicate as late as yesterday to his office. Vice Speaker Telena Nelson also raised concerns to the Governor’s Chief of Staff Tony Babauta.

“I did extend a courtesy call to him to see if he wanted to be here today, but we did not get a response,” the Speaker said.

“I don’t hear Mr. San Nicolas’s name that we’re working closely with Mr. San Nicolas in there. And that’s my concern. We’re keeping Mr. San Nicolas apprised of everything we’re doing. Absolutely but are we getting a response?” the Nelson asked.

In response, a livid San Nicolas called into the Andrea Pellacani Show on Newstalk K57, to say he wasn’t even invited.

“I never received a call from the Speaker. I never received a call from anyone in the legislature. I never received a call from Regine Lee, who is the chair of the federal affairs committee. I never received a call from the Vice Speaker, Telena Nelson. All of them have my number, all of them have me on WhatsApp, none of them have reached out to me,” the congressman said.

San Nicolas says he’s been available and this act from the legislative and executive branch is an absence of sincerity.

“The bottom line is we have in writing from Treasury and from Interior that HR 1365 moving forward is something they’re willing to get behind and this entire local wild goose-chase has nothing in writing from any federal agency,” San Nicolas said.

Meanwhile, Bureau of Budget and Management Research Director Lester Carlson says it’s too early to tell how much will be available to pay out local war claims.

But how will GovGuam be repaid?

Tony Babauta, the governor’s chief of staff, said GovGuam is providing the local funding upfront and will only get repaid with the passage of H.R. 1365.

Babauta explains that the Department of the Treasury didn’t have the authority to expend the money that was being collected from the Department of the Interior. However, only with the passage of San Nicolas’s legislation does the technical flaw become corrected. He also notes that the $7.5 million is only going to the first batch of adjudicated claims of approximately 750 survivors.

However, San Nicolas says there are several steps they need to clear federally and it is a legitimate risk if this local measure passes.

“I’m so livid on the absence of leadership on the legislature’s side, on the governor’s side allowing for the chief of staff to take our people down this course. Get it in writing,” San Nicolas stressed.

You can listen to Congressman San Nicolas’s full interview at pacificnewscenter.com.

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