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OIA Spokesman Says Trip to Palau Not a Junket

Oct. 18, 2004 – Louis M. Willis, director of the V.I. Internal Revenue Bureau, should return from a trip to Palau knowing more than when he left about the conditions under which his office will be operating relative to recent congressional legislation that dramatically affects the territory's lucrative tax incentive program.
"These are not junkets," Keith Parsky, spokesman for the Interior Department's Office of Insular Affairs, the agency sponsoring this week's gathering on the island in the North Pacific, said of the All Islands Tax Administrators' Conference, underway this week in Palau.
"We tell everyone, we're not here to help you have fun," Parsky said Monday. "We're here to address the very serious issues facing the territories."
Along with sending trainers to help the territories' chief financial officers and tax administrators better do their jobs, Parsky said, officials from the Internal Revenue Service are also sent to offer training and answer questions. IRS officials are at this particular conference to specifically address the changes in the tax laws that are threatening the V.I.'s Economic Development Commission program, according to Parsky.
"We deliver training designed around the weaknesses we see in the [annual] audits," Parsky said.
It is at the semiannual gatherings that "we get the information about what skill sets you lack."
The lack of skills, Parsky said, can lead and has led, in the case of the Virgin Islands, to the territories being designated "high-risk grantees." Among the drawbacks of being a high-risk grantee is that Insular Affairs reimburses after funds have been expended rather than advancing funds.
That will be the case for travel associated with the trip.
Willis and the people he brought with him will receive reimbursement for expenses only after they return and complete all the required documentation and provide receipts for expenses
The way Insular Affairs determines the curriculum for the conference is by assessing the weaknesses that turn up in audits of annual financial statements submitted to their office.
Auditing firms are hired to review the financials and to point out the most glaring problems from all of the territories over which Insular Affairs has jurisdiction.
From there it is determined what areas will be covered in the training sessions.
Parsky said graduate students from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are hired to do the training, which may include anything from computer skills to bookkeeping to teaching the skills it takes to run a financial team.
Willis was the first person scheduled to meet with Nikolao Pula, director of Insular Affairs, upon Pula's arrival Monday, according to Parsky.
Parsky could not say which or how many officials were attending from the Virgin Islands.
Parsky said though the conferences are held semiannually, the October event is the more important of the two as it directly follows the end of the fiscal year.
When Willis wasn't at a press conference called by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull last week to talk about the crisis over the congressional legislation, the Source asked his whereabouts. The governor said Willis was "off-island dealing with some tax matters."
Specifically, though the governor did not elaborate, Willis was on his way to the conference in Palau.
The Republic of Palau is a freely associated state located between the Philippine Sea and the North Pacific.
Standard cost for a business-class ticket from St. Thomas to Palau is about $6,500; a first-class ticket runs about $8,900, according to a travel agent contacted for the story. The trip takes more than a day of travel from St. Thomas to Miami, Miami to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Taipei and finally Taipei to Palau.
So why Palau, an island thousands of miles off the U.S. mainland? Parsky said it was that island's turn. "Everyone wants to host these [semi-annual] meetings. If we'd had it in the Virgin Islands the people from Palau would have been upset."

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