Letter to the Editor: Chief Justice speaks regarding impeachment-says he will resign

Dear Editor
In your last issue, you laid out the Articles of Impeachment that the Pohnpei Legislature recently adopted against me. I had decided not to respond to the articles of impeachment as I plan to resign from the position, effective August 28, 2017. Having said that, I am compelled to respond to the Kaselehlie Press to share my side of the story.
At the outset, I was never called by the Legislature to testify before the J&GO Committee even though I had, on a couple of occasions, personally and through my counsels, wrote to the Chairman and Speaker to allow me to testify so that the Committee is fully informed of the situation from both sides. Therefore, I think it is only fair that I respond to the articles in this medium. Thank you for allowing me the space.

If the Legislature had allowed me to respond, this is what I would have shared with them. As to Article 1 to 4, one cannot travel without the authorization of the Director of the Department of Treasury (DOTA) and Administration, and KP and all others including the Legislature is aware of this. To say that I had engineered my own official travel is highly misleading because all the travel authorizations were signed and authorized by the DOTA. A Travel Authorization is not valid without that DOTA’s signature. As the Public Auditor puts it, the DOTA can stop travels initiated by the Governor, Speaker and the Chief Justice if the travel is inappropriate.
Articles 5-8. If the DOTA has denied the requests originally, we would not have been in this predicament. Back in 2003 the Attorney General, the late Edwel Santos, provided a written opinion that the Chief Justice may use representation funds, for a purpose that was connected either directly or indirectly with the Chief Justice’s position as head of the judiciary and the need to foster harmony amongst the Justices and staff of the court. In fact, that opinion was provided to allow the then Chief Justice Judah to use the representation funds to purchase “kanengen uhmw” to his brother John Johnny’s funeral.
Articles 9 and 10. The Legislature has wide latitude in ensuring that the information provided to them is corroborated before making decisions because there is always 2 sides to the same coin. As to the allegations, I attended the National Association for Court Management conference in San Antonio, Texas along with 2 other chief justices from the FSM Court. Afterwards, I flew to Kansas City and drove to the University of Missouri to recruit legal interns for the court and as a result, 2 interns came to work for the court in the summer of that year. Had I been asked about those trips, the Committee would have found out they were official trips.
Articles 11-15, regarding the BOG account. Honesty is the best policy. My predecessor Mr. Judah Johnny opened up the account in 2002 and attempted to close the same account in 2009. The allegation that I opened up the account in 2009 is just one of those fake news. The Court cannot not deposit the proceeds of moneys paid by parties for surety, bail bonds, etc. since those are not state money - meaning they belong to those parties. That is why they are deposited into a separate account where the Court can easily recover them to return the parties. I wrote the Legislature earlier this year to authorize by law the establishment of an escrow account to address this. As far as the check exchanges, it includes all the justices, judges and staff of both courts, not only me. But that is water under the bridge.
Articles 16 to 19. The simple answer is, one can manage the money but cannot manage crimes. I am being removed from office based on my failure to supervise my staff. I think the phenomenon has occurred in all three branches in some form or another, it may include travel money, vehicles, fees, from top to bottom. Will other heads of branches be investigated, or was I singled out? The fact that one resigned and the process does not proceed, does not mean it is the end.
I am pleased to also share that the Public Auditor did another review of the court in April this year and found that the court has implemented all the recommendations that was made from that office and took corrective measures to avoid oversights against misuse of public funds.
The Pohnpeians of the past have a saying in “kamwakelehda likin imwomw mwohn ahmw kamwakele likin imwen aramas tohrohr”. The Governor and the Legislature has cleaned outside my house, would it make sense to do the same elsewhere. I had expected that at least 3 out of the 23 members of the Legislature to ring me up to learn more about the allegations but no one did. I was told that the unaccounted monies was a major factor in the decision making but it was not in the resolution and if the Legislature had dug a little deeper, they would have discovered that those monies are personal funds. Ones “pahnwel” is simply that, personal. No one brags about how many yams or pigs one has.
Lastly, I must thank a number of good people who trusted me throughout this ordeal. Although the action by the Legislature may have dismantled my house, I take solace in knowing that opportunities are out there and I have taken advantage of them. Mr. James (Jaynes) if you manipulate this piece in some way, then you are not doing justice to your readers because they deserve to know both sides of the coin. Thank you.
Benjamin Rodriguez

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