April 26, 2008

On the audit trail again

messy deskMessy desk

I had an interesting couple of hours today. You see, I am a very important person in my neighborhood patronato (homeowners' association). You might not have know that. Or, on the other hand, maybe I'm just the token gringa.

Since I am a former certified public accountant, I originally volunteered to be the treasurer. (BTW, 'former' not because I got kicked out or anything; I just had no reason to renew my license.)
However, based on my education, audit experience, and 5 years of being jack-of-all-trades in my neighborhood group in Dallas, which El Jefe just had to tell them about, they decided that they needed me as Fiscal.

I was a little confused and wasn't even sure what I was elected for if you want to know the truth. ;-) Really! Yes, I was there, but I had to ask El Jefe after the meeting was over. Get more than two people shouting in Spanish across a room and I'm completely lost. It all runs together. I'm much better one on one.

A fiscal, as I know it, is a prosecutor, a district attorney. I asked El Jefe if I was going to get to arrest people, because I had a few inconsiderate neighbors in mind . ;-) I kind of thought that they were counting on me to supervise or audit the books, but no one ever said anything or asked me to do anything, so, in my laid-back Honduran style, that's exactly what I did: Nothing.

Finally, after about five months, the treasurer sent the books home with El Jefe from a meeting which I did not attend. Hmmm. I really meant to look at them but I was busy with a sewing project. By the time I looked for them, I discovered that El Jefe had returned the documents to the Treasurer. I wonder if he assured him that everything was fine.

Then a couple of months later, the books came back to me again. This time I was going to look at them, but remember how sick I was? I put them aside and then, of course, forgot all about them. Yikes, have I got the laid back, irresponsible thing down pat or what? El Jefe grabbed them up one day to return them (yes, ouch! they had been asked for). I said, "No! No! I'm going to look at them. I'll start tomorrow. I promise." I didn't want to be fired from my volunteer job.

So I took a quick run through, checking for receipts, making sure that the neighbor payments added up. It wasn't too bad. A few little mistakes. But down deep inside, I knew that the manner in which the treasurer was reporting things was not very good. First of all, there was no easy way to tell whether any neighbor had paid for every month. Second, there was no accrual for prestaciones, 13th month, 14month, all those benefits that our two employees are entitled to and that our association will be required to pay sooner or later.

I set up a schedule....well, I won't go into all the boring accounting details, but just by reformatting and combining all his monthly reports, I found that we have a bunch of deadbeats in our neighborhood. About half of the people owe at least one month and the worst example was a member of our junta directiva (board member) who has never paid one centavo! I'm getting that guy kicked off the board if it is the last thing I do.

So, once I started digging a little deeper, I started finding mistakes. Uh oh. Now, I don't think this guy was doing anything shady − though I've heard two stories about patronato treasurers suddenly buying big new SUVs.... but these were relatively small mistakes. Maybe a tank of gas here and there at best.

With the help of a labor law website, I calculated an estimate of our employees' earned benefits and wow! It's shocking. With that one accrual, I knocked down our available funds from L.37,000 to about L20,000. That probably won't make me too popular but it needed to be done.

I also had a ton of ideas to make the treasurer's job easier, make my future audits easier, as well as give better and more accurate information to our members. (And, incidentally, highlight the deadbeats to the other neighbors so maybe they can work on putting a little pressure on them. Heheheh)

It was getting toward the time that the treasurer starts collecting for the next month and he wanted his papers back. I asked El Jefe to drop off my brilliant schedule which I was sure the treasurer would just swoon over and to ask him when we could get together.

El Jefe gave him the schedule and started to explain that I had some ideas to help him. (He needs help. He's been doing a lot of complaining.) The treasurer looked at it and immediately started saying that his way works fine and he doesn't want to change, blah, blah, blah. Would you believe that his way doesn't even include alphabetizing the names of neighbors on the various lists and schedules that he writes by hand at least three times every month! El Jefe said he got a little huffy and said that he only agreed to take the job for three months and that if I want to do it that's just fine with him.

Ooooh! I saw that I had a challenge in front of me. I thought about calling our President just to see exactly what my job is supposed to be, but I decided I could handle it. El Jefe said, "You know that you cannot tell a Honduran that he made a mistake. He won't like it. Just be prepared to take over his job if he quits."

El Jefe was not happy as I had already asked him to hang around to translate because this guy refuses to understand a word that I say. Before a meeting not too long ago, he and I were the first ones there. I tried to chat a little, saying things like "¿Nadie está todavía?" (Nobody is here yet?) and "Estoy poquito infirma." after a coughing fit (I'm a little sick). I might as well have been speaking Chinese.

Well, he came over today. La Gringa was up to the challenge! I started out by telling him that I had his job in my old neighborhood for more than 5 years and by the time I left, I really hated my neighbors. There is nothing worse than collecting money from neighbors. He laughed at that as he's had some bad experiences with neighbors who, for example, don't pay for February until March and then virtually accuse him of stealing because their payment didn't show up on the February report.

By the time he left − after about two hours of me asking minute questions and pointing out error after error − he was laughing, smiling, patting me on the back, and correcting my pronunciation when needed because all of a sudden he could understand me. Not only all of that, but because of the type of errors that were made, he has whole heartedly agreed that my schedules will be very helpful to him. He was just so darned grateful for my help. Oh, he also liked my idea of exposing the deadbeats. He snickered about that. Ah, victory! It's sweet.

I haven't lost my touch yet. It was fun.
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