More than $15 million in government money have either been wasted or lost in several irregular deals or pocketed by corrupt officials during the past administration, according to an annual report of the Office of the Public Auditor.
But of the amount, only $970,122 in overpayment or improper payment could be recovered, the report says.
In the 1998 report sent to news agencies, Public Auditor Leo L. LaMotte says much of the audit and investigation by OPA showed that non-compliance to procurement regulations remained a major problem and has led to losses in significant amounts of public funds.
“Procurement involves millions of dollars. Careful procurement can save our cash-strapped government significant amounts of funds,” LaMotte said.
One violation of procurement regulation OPA noted was the advertising contract entered into by the defunct Marianas Visitors Bureau which the agency said resulted in illegal expenditure of $14.22 million in government funds. The contract, awarded during FY 1997, was executed without following competitive selection procedures.
According to OPA, poor enforcement of procurement regulations by the Public School System regarding the construction of a gym for the Marianas High School had likewise wasted public funds amounting to $969,631.
LaMotte says if OPA’s recommendations were followed, the financially-troubled government could still recover close to $1 million in public funds that have been misused and misappropriated by officials during the previous administration.
The public auditor has recommended in the past the prosecution of former Finance Secretary Antonio Cabrera, whom the OPA found to have misused over $100,000 in government money for several questionable reimbursements that included purchase of some personal items.
OPA is also seeking return of $5,975 in overpaid salaries to a former technical financial analyst at the Department of Finance.
The annual report also calls on the present administration to tighten rules on the use and procurement of government vehicles to avoid wasteful expenditure of public funds. “It appears that some government officials and employees take advantage of the privilege of using taxpayer-provided transportation to personally benefit,” OPA says.
It cited the case of a former deputy director of the Commonwealth Ports Authority who took possession of a luxury vehicle for his personal use during working hours despite having been issued a government vehicle. CPA lost approximately $7,145 in lease cost of the vehicle and salary for the ex-deputy director during the period he was using the vehicle for personal matters.
OPA also recommends stricter monitoring of time and attendance, areas widely abused by government employees. Based on a CNMI-wide audit, the agency noted the employee time charges were either falsified or incorrectly summarized, administrative leave was indiscriminately granted, and overtime and comptime were approved in violation of regulations.
“The improprieties noted during OPA’s inspections of time and attendance likely occurred repeatedly throughout the year, resulting in misuse of substantial amounts of public funds for personnel costs.