Guam’s Espaldon: No ethical violation in NMI generator deal

HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — Sen. James Espaldon, who was involved in a potential multimillion-dollar generator deal now under investigation in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, sees no conflict of interest between his role as chief negotiator for that contract and his role as a lawmaker in the Guam Legislature.

Last month, the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. board voted to purchase a 10-megawatt generator for about $11 million from General Pacific Services Marianas Inc., or GPSM. The purchase is now on hold amid ethics questions raised by CNMI lawmakers. A CUC board member, Albert Taitano, faces questioning for his involvement in the company.

Guam Sen. James Espaldon speaks during a legislative session in this file photo. The Guam Daily Post photo

Espaldon was brought on to lead contract negotiations on behalf of the company and its team about two months ago. He told the Guam Daily Post he had been contacted by officials from the CNMI Office of the Public Auditor and disclosed what he knew of the situation.

Saipan Rep. Ed Propst raised conflict-of-interest questions about the deal with GPSM. He had CUC Chairwoman Adelina Roberto acknowledge during an April 11 meeting that GPSM’s vice president is her stepson Philip Roberto, a staffer to Espaldon.

Espaldon said he did not know Roberto was a top official in GPSM until the matter was reported by Saipan media in early April. Roberto is named in the corporate papers of GPSM as the vice president but does not own any stock in the company, Espaldon said. The senator asked to see the corporate papers to verify Roberto’s involvement after learning of the matter.

“I have not really discussed it with him since then. He took leave for medical reasons,” Espaldon said.

“In my mind, the appearance of conflict (in the CNMI) was there because I do know for a fact that he is the stepson of the chairwoman of the CUC…but again as far as I knew, Phil Roberto had no involvement in any of the projects GPSM was doing in Saipan,” he said.

‘I asked myself, is there a conflict?’

While ethics questions were raised in the CNMI over proper disclosure of the relationship between the CUC board members and officials within GPSM, Espaldon said the issue did not present a conflict with his responsibility as a Guam lawmaker. Espaldon said he disclosed his role as a Guam senator to CUC and did not present himself as an attorney because his license was inactive. Espaldon said he functioned more as a consultant to lead the negotiations.

“I asked myself, is there a conflict? Two, is there an ethical violation? And three, can I actually do this without harming what I’m doing (in Guam)? There was no conflict in my assessment. There was no ethical violation in my assessment,” he stated.

The Guam Legislature does have a six-member ethics committee, but the committee can only investigate an ethics complaint if someone comes forward with a written, signed complaint. The complainant must file it under penalty of perjury.

Espaldon said he has not received compensation for his part in the negotiations, although some talk of pay could have happened had the deal gone through. He added that he knew for a long time that the CNMI needed upgrades to its infrastructure and thought the contract was a “win-win for everybody.” GPSM also reported that it was partnered with Fairbanks Morse, a major American manufacturer of diesel engines. The company produces generators similar to the ones already used in the CNMI.

GPSM was also the third-highest ranking offeror in the procurement, according to Espaldon. The higher ranking offerors were disqualified, he added.

“GPSM was the last man standing. I guess that’s the irony in this whole thing…. But the central issue in this case, I don’t think has anything to do with me,” Espaldon said.

“Because of the standards I have, even the appearance of a conflict (with CUC) in my mind, would require that the potential awarding of the contract be pulled and done over. Just to make sure everybody has faith in the system…. But that’s not on my shoulders because I had a very specific role to just negotiate for this GPSM team after they received a notice of intent to award from CUC,” he said.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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