Palikir, Pohnpei - An audit issued by the FSM's Office of the National Public Auditor (ONPA) on August 28, 2008 says that the Travel Section of the Chuuk State Government did not do its job to protect travel funds from misuse and abuse in 2006 and 2007. The Travel Section is charged with handling the details of insuring that travel is properly approved, records are kept, and collections are performed for advances issued for travel.
Chuuk State budgeted $536,762 for travel in 2006. They actually spent $388,276. For reasons unknown the budget for travel was increased for 1997 to $796,961 for 2007. The State spent only $347,433 that year.
The preliminary survey for the audit revealed several questions concerning travel by DOE personnel. As a result the travel vouchers auditors chose for review were mostly for travel vouchers of that department. ONPA said "however, since the Travel Section processes travel forms from all departments and offices in a similar manner, our findings and recommendations are applicable to all other employees' travel advances, liquidation and outstanding travel advances for the other departments, offices, and agencies of the Chuuk State Government.
The audit was hampered by the existence of three separate sets of written regulations and policies for travel. The Chuuk State Attorney General was consulted for a formal legal opinion on which set of regulations should be used. They were different from the ones that staff members of the Department of Administrative Services, to which the Travel Section reports, said that they had been using.
The Director for the Department of Administrative services during the period under review was Winiplat Bisalen. After Gillian Doone took that position he approved the write-off of outstanding travel advances which are carried as receivables totaling $119,364 due to various reasons such as death, inactive employment, and unknown whereabouts of the employees who previously traveled ostensibly on behalf of the government.
Chuuk State regulations require that travelers submit travel vouchers and supporting documents along with any reimbursements that may be due within 10 days upon returning from a trip. 45 percent of ONPA's selected sample of DOE travel vouchers were submitted late by 40 to 169 days. Of 47 traveler vouchers reviewed for travelers attending the 2007 Pacific Educational Conference (PEC) 39 travelers had not filed travel vouchers by the time of the audit 115 days later. Part of the problem was a new requirement by the US Office of Insular Affairs that hotel receipts be provided to justify per diem for travel. The audit said that the Chuuk Compact Funds Control Commission said that each of the travel vouchers each had a notification attached to them notifying the travelers of the change.
Of a sample of vouchers tested worth $80,217 none of the travelers had been notified by Travel Section employees of the overdue account as that office is required to do. Further, several travelers who had outstanding travel vouchers were issued additional travel vouchers for later trips. Some had been issued travel vouchers for as many as four additional trips.
At the end of 2006 there was $303,963 in outstanding travel vouchers at Chuuk State. By the end of 2007 that figure had increased to $479,236 before Gillian Doone authorized the write off of $119,364 in uncollectable travel vouchers.
The Travel Section did not maintain proper files. They processed unauthorized transactions, miscalculated travel advances, processed travel vouchers without adequate documentation and mischarged expenses to the wrong accounts. 36 percent of sampled vouchers had inadequate documentation. By way of example, ONPA said that one voucher was paid that included a car receipt in the name of a person other than the traveler. Others were paid that had missing receipts for conference registration fees.
ONPA said that current regulations don't require attendance certificates for participation in conferences but that without them it is difficult to tell with certainty that the funded travelers actually attended the seminar or conference the state paid for them to attend. The auditor said that though they were able to obtain confirmation from an official of the program that the 107 Chuuk employees who attended the 2006 and 2007 PEC conference in Honolulu did register there was no way to verify whether the travelers attended the various segments of the conference. The travel cost for the two conferences was $316,967.
Some travelers had extended stays with paid per diems for each of the days.
As examples, 16 vouchers were issued for attendance at a 4 day PEC in Palau for varying stays lasting from 10 to 15 days.
Another traveler attending a three day Pacific Rim Conference on Disability was paid full per diem for 14 days in Honolulu.
Chuuk Director of Education, Sanfio A. Sony said that the problem was due to Chuuk's practice of paying for airline tickets at the last minute and having to take the flights that were still available. He said that they had tried to solve the problem.
ONPA said that the PEC was for teachers and educators, yet a significant number of travelers were administrators and secretaries. In 2006 only 25 percent of the participants were teachers. In 2007 only 30% were teachers. Sony said that everyone that works at the Department of Education has an effect on a child's education not just teachers.
People hired as computer operators were sent to a seminar on Basic Microsoft Office Training at a cost of $8,801. The auditor said that people hired as computer operators should already have that basic knowledge.
The Department of Education provided funding to send 20 employees to Pohnpei for training in various levels of Microsoft Office. They spent $34,552 to do it. The Chuuk campus of the College of Micronesia charges $800 per participant for classes in the use of Microsoft Office. The auditor pointed out that DOE could have sent 42 people to the class in Weno rather than sending 20 to Pohnpei for the training.
The auditor suggested that training alternatives could improve the effectiveness of travel and training funds. ONPA suggested that rather than sending large delegations off island for training other methods should be looked into. He named three: Bring-the-trainer, train-the trainer, and obtain training locally.
As a parting shot, the auditor pointed out that a traveler under current practices is paid per diem for a full day that includes the day that the traveler leaves their destination for home. Though they spend that night at home they are given money for a hotel for that night. He suggested that travelers only be given per diem for meals on the last travel day.
The full audit can be found at the Office of the National Public Auditors website at www.fsmopa.fm.