May 12, 2005

By Tom Burkindine
The Kaselehlie Press

A letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Insular Affairs was sent to FSM President Joseph Urusemal on February 28 detailing the suspension of the Chuuk Department of Education meal service program. The suspension is the result of a recent visit to Chuuk by DOI officials who reported a number of problems within the Chuuk educational system.

DOI Deputy Assistant Secretary David Cohen sent the letter to the president and said the immediate suspension was due to DOI personnel being unable to verify that food purchased by the meal service program was received and served to students. Cohen wrote that the suspension could only be lifted following numerous corrective actions by the FSM government to ensure the meal program operates effectively.

Among these actions, Cohen listed a review of all current expenditures, amount of food being purchased, and the number of students being served; an analysis of food storage and distribution practices and internal controls; and preparation of an effective corrective plan which addresses identified shortcomings.

Cohen wrote the meal program accounts for $964,565, nearly 11 percent of Chuuk's education sector subgrant's $8,804,369. The monthly allotment for the program of $80,380 will not be paid until the suspension is lifted.

Concerns regarding the operation of medical dispensaries in Chuuk were also detailed in the letter. Cohen wrote that although salaries are being paid to employees of all dispensaries, although some such facilities "do not effectively exist".

A report from a DOI fiscal specialist on observations made during a December trip to Chuuk facilities lists additional problems with the state's educational system. Along with a deteriorated infrastructure to support education, the report lists maintenance and supply problems. The official lists neglect as the main cause for the deterioration of facilities, which caused many facilities to be closed during the visit.

The report also lists a number of shortages of instructional materials within various Chuuk schools. The author reports that Chuuk High School has an enrollment of 1,005 students and only seven nutrition textbooks and one home economics textbook, Weno High School with 423 students and only 45 textbooks, Mwan Elementary School with 256 students and only 18 books, and 38 public schools with a total enrollment of 4,859 students without a single textbook.

The report also outlines suspected payroll fraud within the Department of Education and Health. "It was reported to me that a number of school administrators and instructors receive a bi-weekly paycheck and don't currently reside in Chuuk State," the report stated. "During my visit I didn't note any schools that had longer than a four-hour day. Approximately $421,000 was expended on providing 'Dispensary Services' at dispensaries, a number of which apparently exist in name only."