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OPA weighs in on use of personal credit card for government spending

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A PUBLIC official or employee who uses his or her personal credit card for government purchases may seek reimbursement and keep mileage rewards earned, according to the Office of Public Auditor.

In its Ethics Opinion 2020-1 memorandum on Aug. 12, OPA said it received an anonymous inquiry regarding the propriety of using a private credit card to purchase goods and services for government purposes, earning airline mileage or other private rewards for the purchases, then seeking reimbursement for those purchases.

OPA stated that the Ethics Act applies to public employees and public officials, and prohibits the use of their public position to obtain private financial gain or other direct or indirect personal or private advantage.

Strictly speaking, OPA said, the CNMI Ethics Code of 1992 prohibits the use of personal credit cards for reimbursed purchases for a public purpose where airline mileage benefits, cash back or other rewards are earned by the credit cardholder.

“While such rewards are earned by the holder at no cost or expense to the Commonwealth, they constitute a direct private financial gain or advantage and are earned using their public position. Public officials or public employees are prohibited from using personal credit or debit accounts for public purchases for the purpose of earning private rewards,” OPA stated.

It added, however, that while “no exceptions to the Ethics Act exist, OPA recognizes that situations arise in public administration where goods or services may need to be procured and ordinary means of government purchasing are impossible.”

OPA said in “such limited circumstances, because most Commonwealth agencies do not have government credit card accounts, it would be reasonable for the procuring authority to make purchases on their personal credit or debit account and seek reimbursements through appropriate channels with supporting documentation.”

OPA said, “under such limited instances, when ordinary means of government purchasing are not possible and public purchases are made on a private or debit account, the account holder may seek reimbursement and retain any rewards earned for those purchases.”

Under such a limited scenario, OPA added, “any rewards earned would be incidental to an otherwise necessary purchase and not run afoul of the Ethics Act.”

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