COHEN: U.S. MUST OVERSEE PACIFIC COMPACT GRANTS

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By Agnes Donato

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 23) – U.S. Deputy Assistant Interior Secretary David Cohen urged public auditors yesterday to provide timely suggestions, rather than reporting on wrongdoing after it has been done.

Cohen made this call at the Congress meeting of the South Pacific Association of Supreme Audit Institutions, a gathering of over 30 government auditors from 23 countries.

"While we appreciate being told everything we did wrong a year after the fact, wouldn't it be better if you could actually catch us before we mess up?" said Cohen, the keynote speaker at the five-day Congress meeting. "The only thing better than good information is good information that arrives in time for you to use it."

Cohen also used the conference as the opportunity to explain why the federal government's oversight role is important in the disbursement of grant funds.

This came in light of frustrations that some lawmakers in the Federated States of Micronesia had reportedly expressed with the Joint Economic Management Committee's efforts to implement the Compact between the United States and Federated States of Micronesia.

Headed by Cohen, Joint Economic Management Committee is responsible for approving over US$79 million in grants for Federated States of Micronesia each year. Federated States of Micronesia's local tax revenue is estimated to be only US$29 million in 2005.

According to the visiting federal official, some Federated States of Micronesia legislators see Joint Economic Management Committee as "eclipsing their power" by not sufficiently deferring to the will of the Federated States of Micronesia Legislature.

Cohen cited one instance where the U.S. members of the joint committee disagreed with the Federated States of Micronesia members. The U.S. members took the position that US$2.5 million should be set aside for textbooks, even though this was not provided for in the budget submitted by Federated States of Micronesia.

He said it was the only one out of over 20,000 line items in Federated States of Micronesia's budget submission that U.S. and Federated States of Micronesia members were unable to reach unanimous agreement in last year's meeting.

"I agree that the U.S. members of Joint Economic Management Committee should not be micromanagers. But nor should we be potted plants. We have an obligation to exercise our independent judgment to help ensure that the Compact will be successful," he said.

Referring to the disgruntled lawmakers, Cohen added: "If you view Joint Economic Management Committee as a threat to your sovereignty, you're focusing on the symptom and not the disease. The real problem is excessive reliance on outside grants. As long as our grants are involved, we will have an obligation to exercise proper oversight."

Headed by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Public Auditor Michael Sablan, South Pacific Association of Supreme Audit Institutions will be holding its Congress meeting on Saipan through May 26, 2006 at the Fiesta Resort and Spa Saipan.

South Pacific Association of Supreme Audit Institutions is only one group of "supreme audit institutions" under the umbrella of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions. International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions is a United Nations affiliated organization "whose mission is to provide mutual support, foster the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and experiences, act as a recognized voice of Supreme Audit Institutions with the international community."

South Pacific Association of Supreme Audit Institutions has counterparts in the European, Asian, African, Caribbean, and Arabian regions.

May 23, 2006

Saipan Tribune http://www.saipantribune.com

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