Craig Odgers: Businesses and governments benefit when they incorporate internal controls

Last modified: Wednesday, January 08, 2014
To the editor:

Recently I have been reading articles with great frustration about certain organizations having irregularities along with alleged embezzlement and time card theft. The possibilities of fraud could have been avoided or reduced if internal controls were applied.

Internal controls, which have been around for a long time, are vital in accounting practices that include separation of duties, supervision and auditing and proper enforcement.

Dan Crowley’s story “Woman denies embezzling $450,000 from Greenfield law firm” (Dec. 26) indicated that $450,000 was allegedly embezzled over four years. The accused was responsible for all of the bookkeeping needs of the organization. The business admitted to having a very robust practice, yet only one person was doing the entire accounting activities, payroll, bookkeeping and accounts payable and receivable. More than likely this would have been prevented if duties were segregated; in other words, the firm should have hired additional help.

In Bob Dunn’s article “Former treasurer of Easthampton High School Parent Council accused of embezzlement” (Dec. 26), the school had a classic problem when it came to internal controls. The challenge for smaller organizations is that financial loss has a disproportionately larger financial impact. Unfortunately, the treasurer was the singular signatory on the council’s account for about six years. Why it took six years to add a second signature on the account is befuddling; oversight is paramount, thus no oversight can result in a higher probability of misappropriations.

The Northampton Police Department time card probe is another example of a lack of internal controls. Where was the oversight? Why is flex-time so difficult to monitor? Should there be more frequent outside audits? Kudos to City Council Vice President Jesse Adams for expressing frustration about Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni not pursuing criminal charges. Too many cases with overwhelming evidence are swept under the rug only to be repeated again, thus creating a moral hazard.

The naysayers will say that implementing and enforcing internal controls are too costly, particularly in a more fast-paced economy. However, as demonstrated with these cases, had each and every organization implemented and applied internal controls than the benefits would have far surpassed the costs.

Craig Odgers