Nov. 26, 2003 The Office of the Virgin Islands Inspector General has released an audit chronicling the deplorable working conditions at the offices of the Traffic Bureaus on St. Croix and St. Thomas. The audit also reveals "the usual" problems with collections and deposits of money, Steven van Beverhoudt, V.I. inspector general, said Tuesday.
The audit comes on the heels of recent shutdowns of the Motor Vehicle Bureaus on both islands for different reasons both, however, related to the inadequacies of the facilities.
On St. Thomas the bureau was shut down "until further notice" after torrential rains caused flooding in the Sub Base building, which seriously damaged, and in some cases destroyed, computer systems and other electronic equipment. Some services not requiring use of electronic equipment are being provided.
On St. Croix, an "unusual foul odor," which may be explained by the audit report, shut down the bureau last week.
The audit says the trailers in which the St. Croix Bureau is housed "have not been subjected to frequent and major repairs and maintenance … resulting in leaking roofs, rotting floors, molded and mildewed walls, backed-up sewers and exposed electrical wires."
The audit further says, "There is an infestation of rats and insects that destroy stored paperwork and the electrical cables." The rats, according to the audit, "live within the walls of the panels and they die and decay there."
Because of the physical conditions at the St. Croix location, computers and other "expensive equipment" remain in storage and are becoming "obsolete."
On St. Thomas, however, the systems were installed only to be damaged in the flooding.
Sgt. Thomas Hannah, police spokesman, said Tuesday that some of the computers could be repaired with the purchase of new hard drives and mother boards, but some equipment, such as the computers used for vehicle registration, would have to be replaced. "They were sitting on the floor" when water and mud inundated the building, he said.
Deposits not being made timely or sequentially
A "surprise cash count" conducted at the St. Thomas Bureau found that collections amounting to $78,617 made between Sept. 18 and Sept. 25 were being kept in a safe at the bureau instead of being deposited
In other instances deposits were held for as long as 51 days. Deposits were also not being made sequentially all of them cash suggesting "cash lapping" was taking place, a situation that can lead to theft and misappropriation, the audit says.
Van Beverhoudt said Wednesday cash lapping is often an indication that someone is "using" the money and covering up the shortages with subsequent deposits. "It's one of the schemes that people use," he said, to embezzle money. He said his office has caught people in the past, citing one case of a "woman at the hospital" who was using cash lapping to siphon off money. "We caught her before she put the money back," van Beverhoudt said.
"That's why it's important for supervisors to make sure deposits are being made on a timely basis," he said. "Don't leave employees open to temptation."
However, no cash was missing, "as far as we could tell," during the cash count, according to van Beverhoudt.
Stock missing or obsolete
Obsolete vehicle-registration stickers 22,740 purchased between 1997 and 2001 cost the St. Croix Bureau $5,685. Lack of proper control over stock also left license plates, certificates of title, registration certificates, stickers and other official documents vulnerable to theft and misuse. In the late 1990s employees of the St. John Motor Vehicle Bureau were charged with selling false drivers licenses. The illegal sale of vehicle registrations is also a known practice in the territory.
The audit reveals there is no formal system for accounting for the supplies.
Auditors get no argument from Police officials
Police Commissioner Elton Lewis, after discussion with Lawrence Olive, director of the Motor Vehicle Bureau, concurred with the audit's findings and has agreed to comply with recommendations made in the audit.
Concurrent with the release of the audit, the records bureau, firearms bureau and administrative offices of the Police Department on St. Croix were being moved to the Rainbow Complex in Mars Hill, Frederiksted. The move will allow renovations to be completed at the Patrick Sweeney Headquarters. Once completed, the St. Croix Traffic Bureau will be moved into the Patrick Sweeney building.
Hannah said Tuesday night he "hopes" the work will be completed in the spring.
He said the working conditions uncovered by the audit had been addressed over and over again in budget hearings before the Legislature. "I always ask them [the senators], 'how would you feel if you had to work in an environment without even proper filing cabinets?'"
Hannah said that on St. Croix employees work out of cardboard boxes, which they have to step over in conducting normal business at the bureau.
"I really give it to the employees who work in these deplorable conditions," Hannah said.
There are no immediate plans to move or upgrade the St. Thomas bureau, which, Hannah said, has been renovated a couple of times.
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