A report from the Office of the Public Auditor did “commend” the Department of Public Lands but notes that the agency seems to be finding it hard to manage public land leases and permits.
According to an OPA audit released on July 17, 2018, DPL was found without “sufficient internal controls” that would allow it to effectively manage public land leases and permits.
The report said that DPL failed to adopt an updated comprehensive land use plan; renew leases and temporary permits in a timely manner; monitor compliance with lease and permit agreements closely; produce billing records, accurately assess fees, and keep reliable records; communicate with the Rota and Tinian district offices; and adopt standard operating procedures for the management of public land leases and permits.
“OPA commends DPL for its effort toward updating the CNMI Comprehensive Land Use Plan after a 12-year delay. The updated plan will serve as both a physical and policy-based blueprint to manage future development and related stewardship of public lands in the CNMI,” noted the OPA report, adding that a draft plan was developed in February 2018 and is expected to be completed before August 2018.
“We found, however, that without the necessary controls in place and the periodic review of those controls, the CNMI risks potential loss of revenue, improper or unauthorized use of public lands, and noncompliance with laws and regulations,” the report added.
DPL rebutted the claims of OPA and argued that the audit findings, despite responding to OPA in a June 26, 2018 19-page letter, were left unchanged even when DPL was cited for issues that occurred in 1990-2017.
“In DPL’s response to OPA it was requested that the audit should reference predecessors such as the Marianas Public Land Corp., Marianas Public Land Authority, [and the] Office of the Public Lands as most of the internal control errors occurred during that time,” a statement from DPL stated, adding that the 19-page letter DPL issued to OPA included over 240 pages of supporting documents as attachments.
The DPL statement further noted that the timing of the audit release, which was on July 17, 2018, was “questionable” since the audit entrance was March 2017 with a final draft on May 2018 and a publication date of July 2018.
“The accusations will continue but our 19-page response letter plus 240-page attachments of supporting documents will show the progress we have done. Most importantly, [Public Auditor Michael Pai himself], in a letter dated July 17, 2018 stated, ‘OPA acknowledges DPL’s continuous efforts in the last two years and looks forward to seeing further improvements,’” said a DPL statement, citing a reported letter from the public auditor.
“This is a long process; DPL thanks OPA for commending current DPL and acknowledging the significant progress we have accomplished. I cannot answer for audit findings from 2002-2015,” said DPL Secretary Marianne Teregeyo.
“Imagine correcting all the deficiencies from previous administrations and being blamed, but we have moved forward and corrected a lot of issues and OPA recognized that. I just wish they took into account our 240-page attachments and 19-page letter rebutting the audit,” she added.