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[Marianas Variety] Marshalls auditor general expands fraud investigations

 

Category: Palau/Pacific News

Published on Monday, February 11, 2013 00:00

Written by By Giff Johnson – For Variety

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MAJURO — A newly established investigations division at the Marshall Islands Auditor General’s Office needs to beef up its operations in response to reports of fraud and abuse of power by government officials.

Auditor General Junior Patrick said they need more staff in the division to meet the demand for investigations. In addition to 13 complaints filed alleging instances of theft and fraud in government, an ongoing special investigation of fraud dating back several years has “identified 21 additional alleged fraudulent activities and suspected additional players in the fraud scheme.”

About 10 people have been charged in court since 2011, and several convicted, with theft involving nearly half a million dollars in Ministry of Health grants.

Lack of funding for staff is a roadblock to expanding audits and investigations by the Auditor General’s office, Patrick said. In a letter submitted to the Nitijela, or parliament, Patrick said 11 of the 21 positions in the office remain vacant. Until recently, Chief Investigator Damien Jacklick was the only one in the Investigations Division until Helias Ned was transferred from another division in the same office, creating a vacancy in the auditing division.

Patrick, in his letter, said that the additional fraud discovered by his office’s re-audit of Marshall Islands financial data going back five years has been “reported to the attorney general for appropriate action.” No new criminal cases have yet been filed.

Now that the Investigations Division has been established, the office is receiving complaints and allegations of fraud through its fraud hotline, email, visits to the office and phone calls, Patrick said. The complaints include allegations of embezzlement, lack of compliance with RMI procurement policy and grant agreements, unethical conduct by public officials, and abuse of power by public officials, Patrick said.

“The Investigation Division is only staffed by the Chief of Investigations and the workload is heavy for a single person to handle,” Patrick said, noting that he had just received approval to move one of his existing staff into investigations. But, he added, “recruitment of the Deputy Investigator was postponed due to budget constraints.”

To expand operations of the Investigations Division, Patrick said he is working with the U.S. Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General to schedule fraud investigation and auditing trainings for his staff. These will be held in Majuro in the near future.

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