Discontent with the Guam government is both universal and of long standing. Some have given up on expecting improvement. Others keep pressing for change in various ways in spite of objections and road blocks. It seems everyone agrees on the need for change. Divergence arises when specific methodologies are introduced. The idea of reducing the number of government agencies from more than fifty to just twelve a few years ago consumed many hours of deliberation by government officials with local citizens but in the end went nowhere. The idea of outsourcing certain services to the private sector where it could be done better, cheaper and faster was pursued with limited success. For one, remember the legislation to outsource terminal operations at the Guam Seaport that was actually passed into law but was not implemented? To underscore the need for change one needs to look no further than the public school system, the public hospital, the public landfill or public roads. There is no one individual or branch of government that can be held accountable for the malaise and that is at the crux of our problem. The two key words: Responsibility! Accountability!

That is why I feel so strongly about the need for a part-time legislature.

The Organic Act, our constitution, requires the governor to be in responsible charge of the government with clear implication that accountability goes with that broad responsibility. By having 15 senators trying to intervene in operational decisions, the governor always has an easy out – “the legislature wouldn’t let me do it!”
The Organic Act places responsibility on the legislature to deliberate and pass laws, to deliberate and pass the annual government budget, and, to deliberate and approve appointments by the governor. That is all.

There is no requirement for the legislature to conduct round-table meetings, or conduct investigative hearings, or engage in endless debate over matters of marginal importance, or engage in constant social interaction with citizens at government expense. While there may be a certain degree of “feel good” emanating from this activity, one must question the real value to the majority of local citizens. For the most part, it is just an expensive talking shop.

The legislature should be made up of citizen-senators that represent a broad spectrum of the island’s people and not be government employees. The contribution of citizen-senators to society should be voluntary with only token payment for days actually spent in official session. The inducement for individuals to become a citizen-senator will then be to leaders in the community that have a passion for better government and willing to make a meaningful personal commitment to represent citizens’ interests.

I believe this is the best first step toward realization of improvement in the way we are governed. It provides for the governor to govern and with no excuses if he or she should fail to deliver on election promises. The Organic Act authorizes the governor to reorganize the government from time to time and that needs to be done in order for him or her to manage efficiently and effectively and be accountable for doing so.

This initiative has to be pursued by the people of Guam because any seated legislature will not. After this law goes into effect, the part-time legislature may have to take further actions that become necessary; Such as: strengthening the positions of an Ombudsman, the Public Auditor and village mayors. The governor will have to be more available to the public. The first step has to be reestablishing the legislature as part-time, as it was in the beginning.

John M Robertson, PE
civil engineer and Tamuning resident