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Public Auditor asked to probe use of funds

By Moneth Deposa SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, June 30, 2010) - The Office of Public Auditor is being urged to investigate various allegations of abuse being committed by CNMI Public School System officials, including wasteful use of public funds, allowing outsiders to use PSS funds for travel, and questionable credit card use.

The request for investigation alleges that PSS has been violating certain laws and U.S. Department of Education regulations.

The formal complaint filed with OPA and with copies furnished to a number of federal agencies and Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, claims there are questionable activities at PSS that require investigation, citing a recent audit conducted by J. Scott Magliari for Fiscal Year 2009, where the audit firm questioned a contract PSS inked with a software provider.

OPA was also told that Education Commissioner Dr. Rita A. Sablan’s approval to reimburse travel collections merits an investigation.

Ditto the use of PSS credit cards in paying for food in leadership meetings as well as expenses incurred by PSS leaders during off-island meetings.

The same investigation request alleged that travel funds were also being abused by allowing some individuals "outside" of PSS and the Board the of Education to travel using PSS’ indirect cost funds.

The indirect cost funds are also reportedly used to pay for hotel room rentals, but with invoices for food and snacks.

The OPA was also asked to look into the wasteful use of PSS funds and federal monies in the printing of colorful monthly newsletters, quarterly magazines, and other pamphlets charged to federal agencies.

The purchase order and travel authorization issued by PSS for religion purposes is also prohibited under the use of federal monies and OPA is being urged to check these transactions.

OPA was also asked to look into the hiring of a new finance director for PSS, despite the lack of certification by the Fiscal and Budget Office.

Last June 21, PSS hired a finance director but the position was not certified for three reasons: due to the hiring freeze Sablan ordered in February, duplicate responsibilities with the financial consultant hired in 2008, and an unanticipated increase in the director of finance salary from US$60,000 to US$65,000. Despite this, the Human Resource Office and the Commissioner’s Office still went ahead with the new hire.

The decision of the commissioner to transfer the PSS comptroller to school level work was also questioned. Saipan Tribune learned that the comptroller was re-assigned to monitor non-appropriated funds amounting to just US$100,000, in contrast to the millions of dollars the comptroller was handling at the PSS main office.

OPA, as a policy, does not comment or disclose details of ongoing investigations.

Education Commissioner Sablan has yet to respond to Saipan Tribune’s e-mail inquiry as of press time.

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