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Reports of overspending inaccurate, deficit only $11,000

By Emmanuel T. Erediano SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 6, 2012) – In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), the presiding officers of the Legislature yesterday denied they spent more than what was allotted in fiscal year 2011.

Speaker Eli D. Cabrera, R-Saipan, told reporters that they did not overspend close to US$1 million as earlier reported.

Senate President Paul A. Manglona, Ind-Rota, said he is confident that they did not incur a deficit as indicated in Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s annual report and believes that there was an "oversight."

Fitial’s report stated that the Legislature had a US$2.5 million budget for personnel but spent US$3.4 million which resulted in US$931,101 deficit.

However, Cabrera noted that the same report stated that this "personnel variance" was "offset" by US$919,945 in leftovers from the "all others" expenditures which included operations.

The Legislature received US$2.7 million for "all others" but spent only US$1.8 million.

Cabrera said deducting the "all others" surplus from the supposed deficit in "personnel" results in a deficit of only US$11,156.

Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos, in a separate interview, said the Legislature should not have included its personnel budget in the allotments for "all others."

"That is why you have a deficit in personnel because you have the cost but no budget, then you have the surplus of essentially the same amount in ‘all others’ because you have the budget [for that] but no cost," said Inos, a former Finance secretary.

Inos said the administration pointed this out upon the enactment of Public Law 17-21 or the FY 2011 Budget Act.

Manglona said the Senate and the House cannot overspend because every action on personnel matters is processed through the planning and budget office then, through the Department of Finance.

If the Legislature didn’t identify funding, the new hiring will not be processed, he added.

The Legislature can spend what is budgeted only, he added.

Finance has "custody" of the funds, Manglona added, so "it’s beyond our control."

In this time of austerity and with some departments operating with a "skeletal" workforce, Manglona said it is very alarming to hear that there is overspending which is inappropriate, illegal or unauthorized use of public funds.

"I am confident that did not happen because we don’t control our finances and because I’m sure that the Legislature never spends more than what is appropriated because, again, we don’t have control over our finances," he said.

The Senate, he added, needs to know why the numbers in the governor’s report came out that way.

"We should at least bring it up and seek clarification," he said.

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