SAIPAN, 26 JUNE 2023 (MARIANAS VARIETY) — The CNMI Senate on Friday passed House Bill 23-15 that aims to address public corruption by expanding and clarifying the offense of official misconduct and establishing felony and misdemeanor punishments against public servants who commit misconduct in public office.

Senate President Edith Deleon Guerrero, Senate Floor Leader Corina L. Magofna, Sens. Celina R. Babauta, Jude U. Hofschneider, Frank Q. Cruz and Dennis Mendiola voted yes for the passage of H.B. 23-15 which was authored by Rep Vicente Camacho and co-sponsored by the rest of the House leadership.

The bill, which now goes to the governor, proposes to impose a 10-year prison term and a US$50,000 fine on a public official who commits an illegal act under the color of office if the illegal act was a felony offense; two years’ imprisonment and US$1,500 fine if the illegal act was a misdemeanor; and one-year imprisonment and US$1,000 fine if the illegal act was not a criminal offense.

The bill would also impose a 10-year prison term and a US$50,000 fine if the public official knowingly neglected to perform duties, resulting in total illegal expenditures of US$100,000; two years’ imprisonment and a US$1,500 fine if the neglect resulted in a total illegal expenditure of less than US$100,000; and one-year imprisonment and US$1,000 fine or both if the neglect did not result in any illegal expenditure or the amount of the illegal expenditure cannot be determined.

During the comment section of the Senate session, Camacho, speaking in his capacity as a House member and a concerned citizen, said a similar bill was passed by the House in the 22nd Legislature but it “died” in the Senate.

He reiterated that the intent of H.B. 23-15 is to deter and prevent acts of corruption at all levels.

He noted that the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee in the 22nd House, chaired by then-Rep Celina Babauta, “took the lead in combating corruption,” referring to its investigation of then-Governor Ralph DLG Torres’ public expenditures.

“Let this bill be a reminder of the hard work that we have put into fighting corruption in the past two years within our government and the private sector,” Camacho said. “Thanks to the help of our federal partners, corrupt acts are coming into light, but it is a shame that good people had been influenced and intimidated.”

He added, “This bill when signed into law will deter acts of corruption. To our viewing public let this be a reminder to continue to protect our government by reporting acts of corruption such as fraud, waste and abuse of our resources and abuse of power against government employees and the people. It is time for our government to do good on self-governance…. PACNEWS

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