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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (August 24, 2001 – Marshall Islands Journal)---Marshall Islands and FSM administration of federally funded education programs "generally did not assure financial accountability."

In addition, five of the 13 U.S. federally funded programs in the RMI and FSM reviewed by the General Accounting Office experienced theft or misuse of funds, reports a draft GAO report obtained by the Journal.

The GAO said that "theft, fraud and abuse of program funds were evident in Head Start, education grants, rural housing loans, disaster response and postal services."

Of the 13 programs checked, "eight were not effective or experienced significant implementation problems when implemented in the FSM and RMI," the draft reports. "These programs included Head Start, special education under the Special Education Program for Pacific Island Entities, and elementary and secondary education grants under the Freely Associated States Education Grant," the GAO says.

The GAO comments that these U.S.-funded education and health programs were intended to supplement other federal, state and country programs, which don’t exist in the FSM or RMI.

"Instead, the FSM and the RMI were relying on these U.S. federal programs as the primary, and often the only funding source for their programs," the report says. "As a result, the U.S. programs were not being used as intended, and their effectiveness was limited,"

The GAO notes that one reason for the ineffectiveness of the programs was the "lack of equipment, medical expertise, and government support for the elementary and secondary education system."

The report says that the gains that students make by attending the Head Start program may be lost in the elementary system, when funding per pupil drops from the Head Start level of $1,767 to $652 per student in public elementary schools.

On the Freely Associated States Education Grant (FASEG), the GAO says that in the U.S. this type of grant is used to supplement other grants provided by States. "However, in the FSM and RMI, FASEG is the primary source for school funding," the GAO notes.

The FASEG funds and other U.S. grants provide all education materials. Remaining school expenses – salaries, building construction, maintenance and repair – receive U.S. funds through the Compact, the GAO says.

"Neither the FSM nor the RMI contribute to needed educational materials," it says.

"According to education officials in both nations, neither country has met commitments under their five-year development plans to make education funding a priority. These officials said that, instead, both governments invested in failed attempts to stimulate the private sector."

U.S. Embassy, FSM and RMI officials all told the GAO that, despite the problems, the 13 programs under review all "provided critically needed services that have improved the health, education and development of the two nations," the GAO says.

Without exception, island officials said that a loss of federal education programs would result in a loss of related services.

For example, without Pell grants, "there would be no college in these nations," the GAO says.

Program officials said that the cut off of programs such as disaster assistance, postal services, aviation programs and weather services "would have a severe impact upon economic development and private sector survivability."

The GAO reports that FSM and RMI program managers said they are dependent on U.S. federal programs to provide services, saying that "their own governments have shown no inclination to finance them in the absence of U.S. federal programs."

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail: journal@ntamar.com  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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