GUAM AGENCY SAYS STORM BLEW AWAY TRAVEL RECORDS

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 17) - Auditors have been unable to retrieve credit-card statements from the Guam Economic Development and Commerce Authority because the economic agency said Supertyphoon Pongsona destroyed those records. But those records existed as of February 2003 -- two months after the typhoon hit Guam.

Public Auditor Doris Flores Brooks yesterday said that around September of this year, auditors asked the economic agency to release fiscal 2002 travel documents and records that show the agency's credit-card charges during the same fiscal year. She said the request specifically included credit-card statements for that year.

But Brooks said the economic agency responded with a general answer that GEDCA records were destroyed by Supertyphoon Pongsona on Dec. 8, 2002. Brooks yesterday said she found GEDCA's explanation difficult to accept, especially after her office found wasteful spending by other local government agencies whose travel and credit card expenditures had been scrutinized.

She said her office also had been tipped, through the office's hot line, to look into GEDCA's travel and credit-card expenses.

But while auditors were unable to get GEDCA's credit-card statements, the Pacific Daily News obtained credit-card statements - for fiscal years 2000, 2001 and 2002 - from the economic agency on Feb. 18 this year.

The economic agency released its credit-card statements based on the newspaper's request for access to those documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The newspaper is looking through the GEDCA records for an upcoming special news report.

In a letter that accompanied the release of the credit-card statements to the Pacific Daily News in February, GEDCA Administrator Gerald Perez said fiscal 1999 credit-card statements were lost during Pongsona along with other travel authorization documents.

When told about the existence of the credit-card statements, Brooks said she is disheartened by the GEDCA explanation to her office.

"They knew how we felt about it and they did not, I mean, I am truly disappointed and disheartened that they gave (the records to the newspaper) and they have not given to the auditors. And that's not the caliber of people we want running the government," she added.

Brooks said the economic agency was specifically asked, first in September and as late as last month, to release fiscal 2002 credit-card statements and other records of travel expenses.

The public auditor said the economic agency was told by auditors last month that, even if the credit-card statements were destroyed by Pongsona, the bank that issued GEDCA's credit cards can reissue the credit-card statements.

Gov. Felix Camacho's office yesterday issued a one-paragraph statement through a spokesman.

"The governor is looking into this matter personally to ensure that all members of this administration fully comply with the laws of Guam, the audit requirements and the policies set forth by the governor," governor's spokesman Shawn Gumataotao said.

GEDCA explanation

It is unclear why GEDCA officials told the public auditor the agency did not have the documents when it gave those documents to the Pacific Daily News two months after Pongsona struck Guam.

Perez did not return phone calls yesterday and was not available for comment.

Earlier yesterday, the economic agency issued a press release explaining how the agency's records were destroyed during Pongsona.

In the GEDCA release yesterday, the agency repeated what it had told the auditors:

· Four years of travel-related records had been laid out on Dec. 5, 2002, a Friday, in a GEDCA room.

· Auditors were to inspect the laid-out documents on Tuesday, Dec. 10, because Dec. 9 was a holiday.

· Pongsona hit Guam Dec. 8.

"As it turns out Typhoon Pongsona hit Guam that weekend," GEDCA's press release stated. "Typhoon Pongsona was originally forecast to not threaten the island, the danger not being imminent until the morning of December 8th, at which time GEDCA staff, like most other families and businesses on Guam, were not able to adequately secure the work premises."

In the release, the GEDCA administrator also took exception to Brooks' comments about the economic agency's failure to release the requested documents.

Brooks said she found the coincidence of the typhoon and the loss of the records difficult to accept. She remains skeptical.

"And they left everything on the table? How convenient," she said.

She said when she first was told of GEDCA's explanation, her response included this: "Yeah, right."

GEDCA's press release said Brooks' comment implied that the loss of records may have been intentional.

"Coming from her respected office, any inference that the loss of documents was anything but a coincidence disparages the facts and GEDCA's good faith in providing the required documents to the auditors," Perez was quoted as saying in the press release.

Brooks yesterday acknowledged that it's not within her powers, as the island's elected public auditor, to require punishment against government managers if they don't comply with requests for audit-related information.

Brooks said her office can require that government managers certify that they have not held back any information requested as part of an audit.

Doing so will help ensure government managers will be forthright, she said.

No justification

The public auditor yesterday said the economic agency's failure to release certain records to auditors led the auditors to qualify their audit findings. The auditors stated in their report that they could not form an opinion on $38,338 worth of travel advances and $102,647 worth of travel-related expenditures at the economic agency during fiscal 2002.

Credit-card statements, credit-card receipts, sales invoices and travel authorizations being sought by auditors would help prove whether the travel advances and travel-related expenditures, including credit-card charges, were valid government expenses, Brooks said.

"We want proof. We want supporting documentation rather than so-and-so just taking his fellow friends to lunch or to dinner. ... The point is, were these expenses justifiable?" Brooks said.

The GEDCA audit was conducted by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu auditors who submitted their report to the Office of the Public Auditor for public release.

Brooks said her other major concern concerning the GEDCA audit was the economic agency's continued use of government-paid credit cards throughout most of this year. It was only last month that the economic agency canceled its four credit cards, she said.

The public auditor said she now wants to have all credit-card spending by the economic agency scrutinized, including this year's expenditures.

December 17, 2003

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

 

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