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Columns: Politics Without Principle
By Laila Yuile. After reading the Auditor General’s report on his audit of the Legislative Assembly’s Financial Records I had a serious WTF moment.
Posted on July 27, 2012 by Laila Yuile on lailayuile.com
Actually, to be completely truthful, it was the second WTF moment of yesterday – the first was my reaction to NDP Finance Critic Bruce Ralston’s comment on the argument between Falcon and Doyle on standard accounting practices:
“New Democratic Party finance critic Bruce Ralston said he does not have the accounting expertise to know who is right in the disagreement, but said he is hopeful the issue will be resolved within the year.”
Seriously? Ralston has worked this file as finance critic for how many years and he doesn’t know enough to comment on what are standard accounting practices or not, or to even know who is right in the argument? WTF? Why not – he is the Finance Critic after all. It was a bit of face-palm moment for me, since I know who is right and so do many others. And let me tell you something… it isn’t Falcon.
This is the first part of what I find so appalling in government in general. The Liberals change and appoint ministers with no experience to portfolios they know nothing about. They are simply walking, talking mouths for media moments and most know nothing about their files, relying heavily on the managers and advisors with each ministry for guidance. This explains much of why so many ministries are a mess. Each Minister who comes in feels the need to make their own mark on it, quite comparable to ten dogs all pissing on the same tree in the park to show they have been there.
The same thing happens in the NDP, however because they have been in opposition for so long, their selected critics have tended to remain the same for the most part. Will they begin swapping ministers like diapers if elected? One certainly hopes not, but I do hope we see a finance minister with more knowledge of accounting practices and finance than Ralston or we’ll all be up the creek again.
This leads me right back to the Auditor General’s audit, that spares no one in the legislature. What I find most compelling a day later, is how little examination or noise is being made of how the NDP has been complicit in this debacle. Kind of funny how on Facebook and twitter today, everyone – and my friends of NDP leaning in particular – are already sweeping this one under the rug. I will hope they all understand that is why I remain indendepent, to ask the hard questions of all politicians, regardless of party leaning. And there are questions.
We know, by and far, the Liberals have maintained a secretive, unethical and often corrupt manner of conducting government business, with no transparency. Despite our still unelected premier’s claims to bring open government back to the people, it hasn’t happened – and it won’t. There are far too many secrets lurking in cabinets and drawers, and too many documents that could end many a career to allow open government to happen while the Libs are in power.
We know that the NDP have indeed, in their position as Opposition, called out the Liberals many times on that secrecy and lack of transparency. However, after reading this audit, I have more questions than answers, on behalf of the people of this province.
Why, in the time the NDP have been in opposition, have they not made it known to the people of B.C., that the Legislature and the allegedly ‘public’ financial affairs of the MLA’s did not have to produce audited financial reports? Did they not know? Did they not think it important? I think the people would have been quite impressed to hear Finance critic Ralston, or James, or Dix say: “Guess what folks? The Legislature financial affairs are a big secret! We don’t produce public reports for accountability! That has to change, the NDP are working on changing that!”
The auditors office recommended way back in 2007, that the Legislature provide publicly available audited financial reports, and improve internal controls to prevent fraud and misappropriation of public funds…. and it never happened. Why?
Let me be perfectly clear. This is no way a difference of accounting standards as Falcon is futily trying to claim. This is no way a minor financial difference of opinion.. this is a lack of the most basic accounting methods for expenditures of all MLA’s in the Legislature, Liberal and NDP. Simple grade 10 accounting trial balance kind of stuff, that there was not enough documentation to even allow the auditor to determine if the figures he did get are even right or not! He cannot state if there is anything missing or untowards going on because the accounting is so bad!
Among the issues reported on:
– lack of bank reconciliations ( pretty standard even for a mom and pop corner store) and those obtained were not done in a standard fashion. The Legislative Assembly did not even start preparing bank reconciliations until right before the 2009 audit and then failed to report millions in expenses for a prior year. Bank reconciliations are the easiest way to track cash, and cash expenditures and catch fraud or unusual cash transactions.
– expenses for one year, intentionally reclassified into another fiscal year to meet budget.
– a repeated and consistent lack of supporting documents and receipts for MLA’s credit card travel expenses, a requirement in the Members handbook.
-lack of disclosure of MLA’s payments. There were approximately $2 million in transitional payments made to former MLA’s that were ‘misclassified’ and not included in the public disclosure of compensation, for MLA’s that had either chosen not to run in 2009, or were defeated in 2009.
– lack of inventory records for Legislative dining room or gift shop.
-No recording of appropriations and transfers between accounts for ministry of finance and the Legislative Assembly accounts. Accounting records showed one bank account had an overdraft of $133 million, another had a positive balance of $5.5 million. In reality, bank statements showed both bank accounts had a ZERO balance.
I could go on, but frankly it makes me feel sick. You can read the full report in this PDF file: AuditorGeneralLegislativeReport
Long story short, all of our MLA’s, both Liberal and NDP, have failed the people who elected them to office by ensuring that first and foremost, they can keep their own financial affairs in order.
While the NDP have been howling and crying foul at the Liberals for lack of transparency and accountability, they have failed to bring resolution to the mess that was first revealed in 2007 by the auditors office.
They have failed to ensure they held the governing Liberals to account by ensuring their own elected members who served on the Legislative Assembly Management Committee followed up and enacted the recommended changes that give the most basic, the most basic, accountability at an MLA level.
For all intents and purposes, it appears they did nothing. Nothing until John Horgan had this statement yesterday:
“New Democratic Party house leader John Horgan, who also sits on the committee, said he was “surprised and disappointed” by the audit findings.
“I think it’s an embarrassment for all members of the legislature. This isn’t a partisan issue. This is an issue of our ability to manage our affairs and I think the public, when they look at this, are going to shake their heads in disappointment and that’s a slight for all of us,” he said.
Horgan also said he believes LAMC is “too secretive” and in need of a major overhaul.
“The internal financial practices have been out of control. You hire people to manage those affairs but then you have to manage those people. The governance of the LAMC committee has failed in that regard,” he said.
“I think the politicians, myself included, need to take responsibility for that.”
I have to say John, if you were doing your job on that committee, and the NDP members sitting on that committee going back to the 2007 report that should have been acted on, you wouldn’t be so surprised and disappointed. WTF do we have an opposition for ? What exactly do the NDP members who sit on this committee do? Either the NDP knew about this since 2007, and did nothing to try and rectify it.. or they admit they didn’t know about it and answer as to why they haven’t ensured they are accountable and transparent at the most basic level in government. It begins and ends with each MLA in that house. I find it unfathomable that the NDP did not know about how little public accountability was being managed and reported. Unfathomable.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I shouldn’t have expected more transparency from both sides. Maybe I thought the NDP were more on the ball, more involved in getting to the truth in government than this. I started wondering who was keeping track of government business when I wrote this post on some questionable credit card expenditures http://lailayuile.com/2012/03/08/government-credit-card-purchases-show-everything-but-fiscal-discipline/
But although I and other bloggers – (the brilliant Blog Borg Collective, who has written extensive posts on the Enron like accounting used in the BC government) – have known for quite a while that the books were cooked, I think I speak for all when I say that this report was far more revealing than anticipated.
Although I admittedly could be called a cynic at times, personally I am incredibly disappointed by this. More importantly, I am disappointed for the people of B.C., who are running out of both time, and options. We’ve been lied to, again and again, by our government. It’s not complicated, it’s about respect. The deceit is chronic, systematic and it’s bloody sickening to have these self-serving politicians lie to our faces with such a straight face that you know they either are completely insane… or they completely believe, with absolute and cold certainty… that we are all a bunch of idiots.
I think this latest report is going to show many people it’s all just a big game based on not much more than politics without principle.
Unfortunately, it’s the people who always end up losing. That’s why I’d like to propose a challenge to each and every MLA in Victoria to publicly and fully reveal their expenditures and expenses to the public. On their sites,or in the press, and I’ll gladly post them here as well should anyone take the challenge.
Credit card expenses, constituency expenditures and and other payments issued to them or their offices from public accounts.
Anything less is lip service.
Laila Yuile is an independent journalist whose work can be found at http://lailayuile.com