Navajo Nation could use outside firms to audit chapters and withhold unrestricted chapter money until financial accounting is complete

SHIPROCK, N.M. - The Budget and Finance Committee received several reports Feb. 16 about Navajo chapter financial audits, money management and chapter fraud prosecutions from agencies within the Navajo Nation.

The agencies submitting reports were the Navajo Nation Office of the Auditor General, Navajo Nation Department of Justice (NNDOJ) and the Navajo Nation Office of Hearings and Appeals.

According to Auditor General Elizabeth Begay many chapters have not completed audits in the last several years - chapters that are certified under the Local Governance Act.

"For instance, Shonto Chapter has not completed an audit since 2000," Begay said.

She said her office and the Navajo Department of Justice (NDOJ) have collaborated to address the issue and they provided recommendations to the committee. One recommendation was to contract outside auditing firms to audit the Navajo chapters, deducting the cost of the audit from the chapters' annual appropriation.

The second recommendation was to withhold unrestricted chapter money until the chapter has completed its audit.

The committee's Vice Chair Council Delegate Dwight Witherspoon commended the auditor general and the Navajo Department of Justice for thoroughly researching and developing the recommendations with significant data and analysis.

"I truly appreciate the breakdown and the clear information," Witherspoon said. "It paints a better picture for us and gives us a starting point to begin addressing the financial issue of Navajo chapters."

The Navajo Department of Justice also included recommendations to aid chapters in avoiding financial audit issues and improve management of their money. According to the report, the NDOJ conducted a review of chapter spending and found issues with internal controls, waste, abuse and potential fraud.

The Navajo Nation Office of Hearings and Appeals also provided a report that included draft language to begin implementing policy changes to address fraud charges and prosecution of Navajo Nation employees and officials who mismanaged money.

Committee member and Council Delegate Tom Chee said committee members will support the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals to investigate and prosecute those who have abused their positions through mismanagement of chapter money and embezzlement.

"[The council] still lives with the stigma of the discretionary fund and abuse that has happened," Chee said. "We still live with that. People automatically assume I am a thief by the virtue that I am an elected delegate, which is the furthest from the truth."

He pointed out that discretionary money is no longer part of the Navajo Nation's budget.

Chee challenged the Council to correct the wrongs that took place in the past and begin recovering millions of dollars owed to the Navajo Nation.

The Budget and Finance Committee members unanimously accepted the reports. The committee also scheduled work sessions to begin tackling chapter audit issues and proposed policy changes.

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