For the first time in six years, the Marshall Islands government has completed its annual financial audit on time, confirming improvements in the financial accountability system at the Ministry of Finance.
The last "on time" audit for the Marshall Islands government was its fiscal year 2010 report that was submitted before the 30 June deadline in 2011.
The next five audits were late, some seriously so. The government's financial accounting system was in disarray, and the severely under-staffed Ministry of Finance was unable to fix repeat accountability problems identified by auditors as well as seeing the amount of spending questioned by auditors skyrocket into the millions. Nearly every audit since 2011 pointed out that the ministry did not reconcile its bank accounts and grant funding on a regular basis.
In April 2015, Maybelline Bing was hired as Secretary of Finance after a brief stint at the Auditor General's Office in Majuro and handed the challenging task of ramping up accountability and getting Marshall Islands national government audits back on track.
So when Ms Bing clicked the "send" button for the 2016 audit at the end of last week, submitting it to the US Department of Interior one day ahead of the 30 June deadline, the thought of popping a few champagne bottles crossed her mind. The United States is the country's biggest aid donor.
"We've cleared three audits in 18 months," said Ms Bing of the Herculean task of getting the audit process back on track. The key, she said, is the Ministry of Finance has hired additional staff to perform day-to-day accounting and ongoing reconciliations of the government's many accounts so that, come audit time after the close of each fiscal year on 30 September, the ministry is ready for the audit process.
"We still have issues to resolve," Ms Bing said. But getting the audits back on schedule eliminates one of the big picture problems that has plagued the ministry since 2011.
With the 2016 audit out the door, this means that when the 2017 financial year closes on 30 September, Ms Bing and ministry staff will be focused solely on dealing with 2017 accounting, not previous years as well.
The on-time audit for FY2016 also indicates that financial accounting is improving at the ministry, which further suggests increased ability to focus on fixing the numerous accountability problems that auditors have pointed out year after year.