NMTI board

The Northern Marianas Technical Institute board  convenes for a meeting on Wednesday at NMTI.

Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

AT the Northern Marianas Technical Institute board of trustees meeting on Wednesday afternoon, chairman Mario Valentino called for an independent audit of NMTI’s finances.

For fiscal year 2019, the institute received $750,000 from the first to third quarters: $250,000 was processed on Dec. 12, 2019; $250,000 on Feb. 15, 2020; and $250,000 on April 14, 2020.

These funds were for the period of October 2019 through June 2020. NMTI did not receive funds for the fourth quarter.

Valentino noted that after taking into account how much funding was available as well as the obligations that needed to be met, and the school’s current balance, the institute spent $750,000 in a year when there was no school due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“If the school was closed, where did the $750,000 go if it was not spent on the school?” he asked.

“Where is all the money? I personally feel that definitely an audit needs to be done. That was part of the transition [committee’s tasks], and every time I mentioned it, it sent people over the edge.”

Valentino said the audit will determine if NMTI did in fact receive the funds and how they were spent.

“I could give you a bag and say, ‘Hey, don’t look in the bag, but it’s all diamonds in there.’ You say, ‘No, I want to see. Open the bag.’ That’s what an audit is for: To…make sure that it’s there, and if it’s not, we need to know why.”

Valentino added, “It just seems reasonable. I think we need to look into that. That would be my recommendation.”

He suggested that the board bring on an independent auditing agency to conduct a formal audit of NMTI’s finances.

“I’m curious as to why everybody was saying that we haven’t received any money. [The] Legislature was repeating that...and it’s often in the newspapers. Why? Quite frankly, that’s not true. [The previous board] got the money. Now the question is where is the money? That’s my point. I think that’s a reasonable question and a very fair question,” Valentino said.

Even before the transition report was submitted, he said he “kept asking for all of the finances. Where are the records? I kept being told, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s got nothing to do with you. We’re just transferring everything.’ It was a sloppy transfer; that’s unacceptable, and here’s where we’re at now. That’s not transparency. Transparency is ‘Open up the books. Let me see the money.’ That’s all. It’s very simple.”

He added, “If we’re going to have to do a brand-new audit, then that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to find out where the money has [gone]. And people who keep objecting [to] finding where the money is — that raises big alarms for me. Why is [there] an objection to [finding] out where the money is? Why is it a problem to conduct the audit? Why is it a problem to even include this in the transition report? I waited two months, and I had to submit a report without that information, and then lo and behold, some miraculous report shows up and then they turn that bogus report in.”

Valentino said at one point, someone suggested that he shouldn’t follow the law.

“I’m going to follow the law,” he added.

NMTI received $750,000 for FY 2019 and $1.3 million in CW-1 funds.

“Since then, no money has been appropriated. Our budget was vetoed,” trustee Richard Kautz added.

NMTI interim chief executive officer Jodina Attao, for her part, said: “[Had we] received at least $300,000, we wouldn’t have ceased operations and closed the school for enrollment. But [since] we only have $13,000 to operate, we really didn’t have the opportunity to open our doors.... I agree that we need more information as to what happened to the awarded money in CW-1 [funds].”

Attao said there is documentation showing that NMTI received $1.3 million in CW-1 funds from the CNMI Department of Labor.

The board will gather more information and will reconvene at a later date to discuss the trustees’ options and vote on whether or not to move forward with an independent audit.

Reporter

K-Andrea is a Gates Millennium Scholar who earned her bachelor of arts degree in political science from St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY. Since joining the MV team in Feb. 2020, she has been covering the political, environmental, and community beats.

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