November 14, 2012

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

November 7, 2012-The Pohnpei State Office of the Public Auditor has confirmed in an audit released on October 30, what many people in Pohnpei have long suspected. Government vehicles are being used inappropriately for personal use by unauthorized personnel.

The audit covered the usage of vehicles belonging to the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches. "There was no audit finding specific to the Pohnpei State Legislature or the Office of the Public Auditor," it said. But the audit did find evidence of misuse of vehicles in the Executive and Judiciary Branches.

"There is inadequacy and laxity in the observance and enforcement of the laws applicable to the use of government vehicles for the Executive and Judiciary Branches of the Pohnpei State Government," auditors concluded. "The above weakness led to inappropriate use of government vehicles (also non-compliance with the vehicle law) and if not corrected timely may result to uncontrollable misuse/ abuse and/or additional costs to the government," the audit said.

The use of government vehicles is governed by Pohnpei State Law No. 2L-90-89, as amended. In that law, only the vehicles assigned to the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the Legislature, Chief Justice, and the Public Auditor are exempt from the requirements of the law.

"Among other things, the law prohibits any person to knowingly and willfully operate a government vehicle outside of government working hours without a written permit prominently displayed on the dashboard of the vehicle," the audit explains. "The permit shall carry the signature of the Governor (Executive Branch), Speaker of the Legislature (Legislative Branch), Chief Justice (Judiciary Branch) or the Public Auditor (Office of the Public Auditor) or their designees. The permit shall also prescribe the items and places of permissible use, authorized operator(s), passengers, and duration of validity. A person found to be in non-compliance with the provisions of the law is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction will be fined not more the $1000 or imprisoned not more than 60 days, or both.

Of the 187 Pohnpei State vehicles, auditors tested 51. On September 5, 2012 they found that nine cars were not at their designated parking locations after working hours. Later review showed that of the nine cars, only one vehicle had an approved written permit, and one of the vehicles was being repaired. The remaining seven vehicles simply had not been returned at the end of the working day.

On September 6, 2012, another inspection was conducted by the Governor's Security Guard. On that evening three vehicles were missing from the central parking location at Peilapalap. They were supposed to have been returned by 5:00 p.m. By 7:30 that evening they were still not parked in the car pool.

The audit says that the effect of the finding "resulted to inappropriate use of government vehicles and may lead to additional costs of fuel, repairs, and maintenance for the government if not corrected timely."

Thomas Pablo, Director of the Department of Treasury and Administration said in his official response that auditors should conduct a review of "blanket authorizations" assigned to various staff members for the use of government vehicles. Auditors said that they did review the "blanket authorization" against the log book kept by the Governor's Office and also compared it with the vehicle permit issued by the Governor. They concluded that the "blanket authorization" is not in compliance with the vehicle law.

Chief Justice Benjamin Rodriguez also provided a response to the audit. In it he quoted Article 10, Sections 9 and 10 of the Pohnpei Constitution which together establish the independence of the Judiciary and grant to the Supreme Court the authority to establish its own rules of conduct regarding its employees and rules governing its employees. "Such rules shall have the effect of law…"

He said that the Misuse of Property section of the Pohnpei code clearly does not govern those vehicles owned by the judiciary. In 1989 General Court Order 04-89 sets out a clear motor vehicle policy which includes the power of the Chief Justice to assign custody of vehicles to any officer of the Court. The policy also sets out its own remedial procedures for misuse of judiciary vehicles.

The position of the Chief Justice is that the audit should not have included a review of the judiciary vehicles since they are not covered by the Chapter 16 of Title 61 of the Pohnpei Code.

"Let me inform you that it is not to say the Pohnpei Judiciary does not or will not acknowledge that there is a need to draft policies to respond to the audit or implement other corrective measures to ensure that the Pohnpei Judiciary is in line with the other branches," Justice Rodriguez capitulated. "The Court is improving our own General Court Order to implement what is needed for compliance purposes." The audit said, "the letter did not provide [a] corrective action plan for the resolution of the deficiencies found in the Pohnpei Supreme Court's control over its vehicles. As a result, all our findings pertaining to Pohnpei Supreme Court remain…we still encourage the Chief Justice to implement effective controls and monitoring measures to ensure that the vehicles under the custody of the Pohnpei Supreme Court are not subjected to misuse and abuse." Auditors used that same paragraph in each finding in response to the Chief Justice's letter.

The second finding of the audit said that the Judiciary discontinued the use of vehicle logs and has not implemented a similar monitoring measure.

It said that not all Executive Branch departments are requiring the use of a vehicle log. Of its five departments, three have not fully implemented the policy issued by the Governor in Executive Order 03-08-11 which requires the use of vehicle logs for each Government vehicle.

Finding three said that State Law prohibits a person from knowingly and willingly operating a government vehicle without having obtained a Government Motor Vehicle Operator's Identification Card, otherwise known as a "Government Driver's License". Their review uncovered the fact that some employees do not have a Government Driver's License but they were allowed to operate government vehicles.

This "condition increases the risk of Government's liability in case of accident made by vehicle operator without appropriate license," the audit said.

The final finding in the audit has to do with resolution of prior year audit findings. The externally conducted Pohnpei State Government Single Audit reports for Fiscal Years 2009, 2010, and 2011 "disclosed a recurring prior year audit finding regarding the lack of documented procedures in place requiring fixed assets to undergo required maintenance."

Auditors urged the State of Pohnpei "to strengthen internal control requiring that periodic reviews be performed and that asset maintenance activity be documented and monitored." In his response, Mr. Pablo argued that the finding was outside of the scope of the audit. He reminded the Pohnpei Auditors that the outside auditors found no questioned costs, and pointed out that just recently, his department had received a letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior saying that their efforts to resolve the finding are "sufficient".

The Pohnpei State audit said that auditors are required to follow up on all outstanding significant findings from previous audits relating to their audit objectives. They did not have sufficient time to perform a follow up on the implementation of the management Corrective Action Plan. It said that auditors would consider the finding resolved if it does not reoccur in the Single Audit report for the Fiscal Year that ended on September 30, 2012.