On Tuesday afternoon, police officers descended without warning on WIOA (Workforce Investment Opportunity Act) office, a US federal government grant program at Palau Community College campus, instructed all the staff to take only their personal belongings and leave the building. Officers watched them as they collected their personal belongings and ushered them out locking the door behind them.
A press release issued by the Office of the President later that day stated that based on recommendations by Special Prosecutor and Public Auditor to President Whipps on their ongoing investigation into complaints regarding the distribution of US COVID relief funds, his office is “cooperating fully with this investigation…and taking every recommended action to secure public funds, records, and programs.”
The press release also stated that the employees of WIOA were placed on paid administrative leave pending the “review of their roles in the administration of funds.” Information also stated that the investigation process is ongoing and as such, anyone that is accused is “presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
Employees were instructed to turn-over all their access and passwords to the government.
President Whipps at this week’s press conference reported that they have informed United State’s Department of Labor and the U.S. Ambassador in Palau of the actions they’ve taken according to processes required under US laws. President informed that no response has been received yet from the US DOL.
On Thursday, President Whipps issued an Executive Order 453 to reconstitute Palau’s State and Local Workforce Development Boards which he said had already expired.
Meanwhile, checks that were scheduled to be disbursed this Friday (today) will not be disbursed until the Local Workforce Board has organized and elected a chairman. A press release issued yesterday informed PUA applicants to continue to submit their weekly reports in order to remain eligible for payments.
There is no clear timeline on when the investigation will be completed and when the staff can process reports and issue checks but President said that aim is to have staff and board ready by next week to start processing the paper work and payments.
“What we have done is secure these assets and records and we will work with US DOL on the way forward…We will do our best to issue assistance at earliest opportunity…but we also need to know that this is not our money, this is US money, and they also have the right to tell us that we did something wrong and therefore they will just stop the funding. That also can happen,” stated President Whipps.
Allegations and complaints that funds from US COVID relief (PUA) have not been distributed appropriately led to investigations from the Office of Special Prosecutor and Public Auditor.