OLEAI Saipan — Three U.S. accountancy officials were on Saipan April 28 to 30 and met with Gov. Benigno R. Fitial. The group toured four possible sites from which one will be chosen for a testing center where public accountancy certification can be held according to James N. Whitt chairman of the board of accountancy.

With the visit Whitt said the board is optimistic about finally having a first batch of 1 000 candidates for certification by the first quarter of next year.

Whitt a senior partner at Ernst & Young’s Saipan office told the Journal “I think that’s a safe estimate: about 1 000 candidates taking the exam in the first year of the testing center’s operation. We have full expectation that by the first quarter of 2007 we would have a computerized testing center up and running.”

According to Whitt Joseph Cote field representative from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy along with David Ginsburg and Al Salmi of Prometric a company involved in providing professional certification examinations met with the governor on the day of their arrival. No details were immediately available about the meeting which was held in a private function room at the Hyatt Regency Saipan Hotel.

The next day Whitt said the group toured the old La Fiesta Mall building in San Roque the Marina Heights Industrial Park in Lower Base the Horiguchi Building in Garapan which houses federal offices and the Nauru Building in Susupe.

The group also met with the accountancy board to finalize documents and other requirements for the center. Whitt said security was the group’s primary concern in setting up the testing center.

NASBA holds offices in New York and Nashville Tennessee. Whitt said “Them coming here indicates their seriousness. We’re very optimistic that the exams will (finally) be offered with key players showing interest.” Cote was also in Guam on April 25. With the Northern Mariana Islands enforcing its immigration laws it is hoped that candidates would prefer taking the exams on Saipan which doesn’t require a U.S. visa upon entry.

Cote e-mailed Whitt on March 9 and told him he had “excellent talks” with Alan Barak a lawyer with the NMI attorney general’s office assigned to the accountancy board and Guam-based Mack Ezzell one of the board’s administrators during a February meeting in Tucson.

“Our primary purpose…is to meet with you and the CNMI Board of Accountancy. We are also trying to set up a meeting with Gov. Fitial and would like to look at possible sites for a testing center ” Cote told Whitt in his e-mail a copy of which was obtained by the Journal before the scheduled visit.

The NMI accountancy board which was created on May 20 2003 with the signing of Public Law 13-52 Gov. Juan N. Babauta obtained NASBA membership last year. This allows the board to offer accountancy certification exams and as well regulate the local accountancy industry by requiring that certified public accountants be issued permits to practice in the NMI.

Whitt said “Now we can have what we believe to be a large number of foreign candidates coming to CNMI for the examinations.”

The board has been working on establishing a testing center since 2004. (See “Thousands expected to sit for CPA tests in Saipan” story in the Sept. 20 2004 issue of the Journal.) Whitt said the board expect a first batch of at least 1 000 candidates for the four-part examination.

The certification examination is a multi-million dollar industry by itself with revenues generated from fees hotel accommodations car rentals and food sales among others of the candidates taking the exams.

In Guam examination costs are from $300 to $895 for four parts. Guam residents are given a $200 discount. The Guam Board of Accountancy collects $225 from the fee; the rest or $670 goes to Prometric which has a national contract to do the test; the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and NASBA. Accountancy certification exams in Guam are held twice every three months. Most of those who take the exams are from Asian countries including the Philippines China Korea Japan and Taiwan. MBJ