MARIANAS STIMULUS SPENDING AWAITS AUDIT PROCESS

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No money to be spent until accountability in place

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 5, 2009) – The CNMI has not spent a single penny of the federal stimulus money it has already received or had been notified of receiving because there's no entity yet to audit every dollar spent to ensure accountability, Commerce Secretary Michael Ada yesterday said.

"The CNMI is not in a position to mess this up," Ada told Saipan Tribune in an interview after the governor's regular Cabinet meeting where he shared an update on federal stimulus money spending, reporting and accountability issues.

Ada said he has talked with the Office of the Public Auditor to help put up an accountability process for money received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The government has yet to decide whether to outsource to the private sector the auditing of every dollar spent or do it internally, or both.

But the government recognizes that OPA itself lacks auditors to complete its audits and investigations. OPA is currently looking for 11 staff, mostly auditors.

"We're not going to start spending the money until we set up the accountability process. The government here does not want to be held responsible for mismanagement of the money so we're developing a process," Ada added.

The government is expected to decide on the auditing issue shortly, based on what Ada said is most cost-effective for the CNMI.

"The government can't bear the burden of it all because I can't have people managing capital improvement projects and also managing ARRA projects. That's too much and we don't have the resources," he added.

U.S. President Barack Obama created a Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board made of 11 inspectors general to audit every single dollar provided and spent by U.S. states and territories.

Official notifications

The official website that explains the ARRA, www.recovery.gov, has only reported $32.473 million in funding notifications for the CNMI as of yesterday.

Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands received funding notification of anywhere between $43 million and $200 million. Puerto Rico has the biggest share at $2.13 billion.

Of the eight territories and Pacific islands receiving federal stimulus money, the CNMI ranks fifth in terms of the amount of funding notification, ahead only of Palau, 0.494 million; the Marshall Islands, $0.413 million; and the Federates States of Micronesia, $0.347 million.

But Ada said the website has not listed everything that's already in the bag.

He said the CNMI received notification of some $60 million in federal stimulus money plus $48.4 million in state fiscal stabilization fund, but not everything has been listed online or received yet. He added that the Department of Finance will also have to create separate bank accounts for the money received according to the program it's intended for.

Most or over $18.6 million of the $32,473,926 in funding notification for the CNMI posted online is for the State Energy Program, followed by Title I grants to local educational agencies, and safe drinking water program. There are 24 separate CNMI projects listed on the site.

The CNMI has also submitted its State Rehabilitation Fund application but is now just waiting for the results of talks between the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of the Interior on how to manage the funds for island areas.

Saipan Tribune: www.saipantribune.com

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