The Public Accounts Committee launched nine days of hearings Tuesday at the Nitijela Conference Room with the Auditor General and Ministry of Finance first up on the agenda.
Based on rapid inquiries from members of the committee chaired by Likiep Senator Leander Leander, Jr., the session heated up minutes after starting.
But as inquisitive as the sitting committee was, the ones questioned retaliated with equal amount of force and answered questions thrown at them.
Questions like “would Finance adopt provisions of the appropriations law and prevent cash flow to entities that don’t turn in their audits?” “What would it take or whom would it take to finally fix ongoing problems so the phrase ‘we are working on it’ no longer serves as an answer?” were laid out one after the other, to which Auditor General Junior Patrick, Finance Secretary Maybelline Bing and Assistant Secretary of Budget, Procurement and Supply Ewao Elanzo, Jr. countered: “Human capacity is an issue but we are hopeful the ongoing procurement trainings and recent hires of two international consultants will help get things done and in a timely manner,” they said. “Aside from the procurement trainings that would enable everybody to be on the same page, we have employees currently enrolled and taking finance courses at the University of South Pacific. Finance has the largest turnover in employees (in the RMI government). We have a hard time retaining experienced workers, but with the recent gaps now filled, we are confident the problem will be fixed.”
The question of why there are repeated findings from previous years showing in the FY2015 audit report when the audit team declared they fixed problems from the FY2014 audit report was raised by Majuro Senator David Kramer.
Patrick urged senators hold up discussions on the FY2015 audit report since the exit meeting is scheduled for Wednesday this week and the report being scrutinized is still in draft form and is subject to change. The committee zeroed in on the two reports after Bing said the FY2015 audit will be completed in November.
Bing’s report showed a positive trend in audit reports. She said the FY2014 report was completed 10 months late, while the FY2015 is delayed only five months. She also shared that her team is “almost” ready to start the FY2016 audit.
Utrok Senator Amenta Matthew asked whether the Auditor General’s office has adequate staff to conduct audits. “The question doesn’t really depend on whether the audit team doing the counting is ready, but are the entities ready to be audited?” Patrick replied, emphasizing the point that RMI ministries or agencies are often not ready to begin audits in a timely manner. Patrick added, however, that his office would benefit from additional audit staff.
Read more about this in the October 28, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.