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NEWS: Marpi Landfill contract awarded to cronies

By Jacob Nakamura

Right before the public health emergency began in Saipan, the Torres administration issued a notice to proceed for a company with ties to Labor Secretary Victoria Benavente and prominent members of the Dirty 30 to operate the Marpi Landfill.

The NTP was issued by Republican Party Chairman and Department of Public Works Secretary James Ada to a company that didn't even qualify as the lowest bidder during the original and subsequent emergency procurement for the project: Micronesian Environmental Services (MES), LLC. The emergency contract has not even been executed by the governor, yet the work was allowed to start, in further violation of the Commonwealth's laws.

The project manager for MES is James Benavente, the son of former Lt. Gov. Diego Benavente.

An invitation to bid for the landfill was advertised in both local papers with a submission date of February 19, 2020.  On the appointed date, three proposals that met the deadline were publicly opened.  Tang's Corporation was the lowest bidder at $109,824 for a three-month contract, or $36,698 per month.  MES came in second with a $145,669.32 bid for a three-month period, or $48,586.44 per month.  MES's bid is $35,845.32 more than Tang's, or nearly a third more expensive.

USA Fanther, the third bidder, was the most expensive at $349,960 for a three-month period.

Rather than awarding the contract to the lowest bidder, Mr. Ada cancelled the bid citing only that, "it is in the best interest of the government."  Tang's was the contractor for the operations of the Marpi Landfill, but that original contract had expired, necessitating this interim three-month contract while a separate bidding process for the long-term operations of Marpi is conducted.

The Tang-Marpi contract ended on February 29, 2020, with the Commonwealth government owing Tang more than $667,000.

On March 2, 2020, DPW notified all parties of an emergency procurement for the three-month interim contract, where MES was selected to provide services. This time, the contractual price had ballooned from MES's original proposal of $145,669 to $159,421.29, or more than double Tang's bid.

Congressman Gregorio "Kilili" Sablan wrote to the Commonwealth government on that date imploring the government to make proper use of a $56 million appropriation specific to the Commonwealth in U.S. Public Law 116-20 for the solid waste needs of the CNMI. He said it was important for leaders to invest in solid waste facilities in Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.

The federal funding source will provide for the long-term Marpi contract and facilities construction, which the Benavente family and the Torres family are eyeing. In order to compete for the long-term and facilities contracts and the millions available from federal funds, bidders would need experience and past performance, which the interim contract now provides to MES.

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