During the holiday season I like so many who read the Marianas Business Journal spend a great deal of time thinking about gifts. My mind wanders from gifts I have given to gifts I have received to gifts I’d enjoy. Most gifts date me: Risk Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots Pong and of course properly promulgated government regulations.
What’s that? Nobody wants to find government regulations under the tree you say? I admit that when I was 10 I didn’t hope for government regulations properly promulgated under Guam’s Administrative Adjudication Law. But little did I know that through a series of bad decisions I would one day become a lawyer. But I digress.
Unfortunately it is often the case that Guam agencies either don’t promulgate regulations do it without complying with Guam law (which gives the public an opportunity to provide comments on proposed regulations) or simply make things up along the way. I can’t chronicle every incident that my lawyer colleagues and I have encountered but I think a couple examples might help illustrate my point.
– Imagine that your dad who lives off-island decides to gift you a piece of property on Guam. You do the sensible thing and hire a Guam lawyer who prepares the deed. You sign the part that needs your signature as grantee and then mail the deed to your dad who signs and returns it to you so your lawyer can record it with the government of Guam. It wouldn’t be the first time if the deed were rejected at the Department of Land Management filing window because the grantee (the person getting the property) signed before the grantor (the person giving the property away). Why? Because “it was signed out of order.”” Nowhere in Guam’s laws does it require a specific sequence of signing probably because it shouldn’t matter. So your lawyer must contact a supervisor to get the matter addressed – taking more time and consequently costing you more money.
– How about the time when you broke your leg and your driver’s license expired while you were in the hospital? The Department of Revenue and Taxation tells you that you can’t renew your license because you are in a wheelchair. Maybe that makes sense although you might drive a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. So you ask for a temporary handicap placard but are told you can’t have one because you don’t have a valid driver’s license. You go to a supervisor to address this catch-22.
I could go on but you see where I’m going with this.
My point however isn’t to call out individual agencies or government employees. Often times the lack of properly promulgated regulations and lack of training are to blame for the confusion – not always mind you but often. When regulations are missing or unclear government employees are left to figure it out on their own and customers (yes constituents are customers) are left with arbitrary and inconsistent applications of the law.
This isn’t an issue of cost. The CNMI with far fewer resources at their disposal does an excellent job with this compared to us. One need only glance through their regularly updated administrative regulations to recognize this.
Ideally the system should work as follows: Agencies are provided legal assistance to draft proposed regulations which are submitted for public review and discussion under Guam’s Administrative Adjudication Law. After approval the regulations are interpreted and explained to agency employees and made available to the public. Only then will everyone know what to expect when they go to an agency seeing help from their government.
In short spending the time to get the regulations right helps everyone. It helps government of Guam employees and the people who go to our government agencies seeking help with their matters. It helps increase the efficiency of all business: personal and commercial. Best of all it saves everyone involved time and money.
So this year I think a good gift to our island residents and business community is a real commitment by our executive and legislative branches of government to make Guam’s regulations better for all of us. Happy holidays and wishing you all the excitement of good governance and Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.
– Jehan’Ad Martinez is a principal in and the managing attorney of Blair Sterling Johnson & Martinez P.C. He may be reached at [email protected]