Three Tobolar management officials met with the Journal at their request this week to “set the record straight” in response to a front page article two weeks ago about a Deloitte audit of Tobolar finances. Their message: Money was not stolen from Tobolar.
Minister of R&D Alfred Alfred, Jr., Tobolar General Manager Jemi Nashion and board member Alanso Elbon spoke about the situation at Tobolar and the FY2014 audit that led to the front page story with the headline, Tobolar staff ‘lose’ $100,000.
“We want to emphasize, no money was stolen or taken,” said Nashion. Alfred said: “The audit finding doesn’t necessarily mean money was stolen.”
Nashion said the Deloitte audit referred to two issues: one involving about $27,000 leftover from paying copra makers, and $80,000 for which there was no paperwork or documentation available. On the $80,000: “The report (on the use of these funds) was not available at the time of the FY2014 audit,” said Nashion. A report documenting use of this funding was produced and is available to auditors. The report resolves the audit question, he said.
Regarding the $27,000, Nashion went into detail explaining how so-called “variances” occur between amounts of money available and paid for copra. After a copra trip, Tobolar Majuro staff review copra tonnage and payments for accuracy. They find many issues, including errors in calculating the weight or the amount of individual payments. “We find variances on almost every trip,” he said. Usually the weight of copra bought on outer islands is less by the time it is landed in Majuro, which creates another variance in what was paid for and what was landed, but does not mean money was taken improperly. The audit’s description of the $27,000 as “un-returned cash” is not correct, he said, adding that this related to 17 copra trips to the outer islands.
Alfred said between 2014 and now, “a lot has been done to minimize the variances between (purchases on) the ships and (reconciliations at ) Tobolar.” The Minister said the audit did highlight operational weaknesses at Tobolar, which the agency is working to resolve.
Alfred, who took over the Ministry of R&D portfolio, which includes oversight of Tobolar, in late January, said: “Under my watch, Tobolar won’t tolerate fraud or theft.”
Read more about this in the June 17, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.