Film pro­duc­ers took ad­van­tage of loose grant rules

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - CLARE CLANCY cclancy@post­media.com twit­ter.com/clare­clancy

A grant pro­gram aim­ing to boost Al­berta’s tele­vi­sion and film pro­duc­tions lacked fi­nan­cial over­sight and al­lowed re­cip­i­ents to claim more than $1 mil­lion in un­sup­ported ex­penses, says the prov­ince’s au­di­tor gen­eral.

“The man­age­ment of it has been sub­stan­dard,” said au­di­tor gen­eral Mer­wan Sa­her, fol­low­ing the re­lease of his fall re­port on Thurs­day.

The Al­berta Pro­duc­tion Grant pro­gram — which doled out $43 mil­lion in 2016-17 with a cap of $5 mil­lion per project — had un­clear guide­lines for ap­pli­cants since its launch in 2013, said the re­port.

An au­dit of eight grant re­cip­i­ents con­ducted by the Al­berta Gam­ing and Liquor Com­mis­sion found that five of them had claimed in­el­i­gi­ble ex­penses. Ex­am­ples in­cluded one in­di­vid­ual who claimed the salary for three po­si­tions and re­cip­i­ents who sub­mit­ted ex­penses for outof-prov­ince ser­vices.

The de­part­ment of cul­ture and tourism has been try­ing to re­cover $1.2 mil­lion from two com­pa­nies since Fe­bru­ary 2016, the re­port said. That amount was re­duced to $430,000 in late 2016.

The three other com­pa­nies aren’t be­ing pur­sued “be­cause the un­clear guide­lines made it dif­fi­cult for the de­part­ment to en­force com­pli­ance.”

Al­most $170,000 was re­cov­ered re­cently, said Cul­ture and Tourism Min­is­ter Ri­cardo Mi­randa on Thurs­day.

“We in­her­ited a prob­lem from the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment,” he said. “(The pro­gram) didn’t have the over­sight and the fi­nan­cial con­trols nec­es­sary to eval­u­ate the ap­pli­ca­tions.

“The way it was set up was flawed, no ques­tion about it.”

The re­port urged the cul­ture and tourism de­part­ment to cre­ate easy-to-un­der­stand cri­te­ria and estab­lish a way to re­cover funds more quickly if re­cip­i­ents claim in­el­i­gi­ble ex­penses. It also pointed to a track­ing prob­lem — an au­dit in late 2016 didn’t in­clude any of the com­pa­nies pre­vi­ously found to be prob­lem­atic.

Mi­randa said the Screen-Based Pro­duc­tion Grant — an­nounced ear­lier this month to re­place the pro­gram — will in­clude ex­ter­nal au­dits to ac­cess ap­pli­ca­tions.

The au­di­tor gen­eral’s fall re­port cov­ered a slew of top­ics rang­ing from food safety mea­sures to in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy con­trols for the Al­berta Gam­ing and Liquor Com­mis­sion.

S ah er said that rec­om­men­da­tions to the de­part­ment of ad­vanced ed­u­ca­tion have been ig­nored when it comes to Cam­pus Al­berta, a pol­icy frame­work launched in 2002 to en­cour­age col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions.

“It’s as if noth­ing has hap­pened in the last four years,” he said.

Col­lab­o­ra­tion would al­low in­sti­tu­tions to share costs and re­sources, the re­port said, re­it­er­at­ing prob­lems out­lined in a 2013 au­dit. “In­sti­tu­tions did not un­der­stand what the de­part­ment ex­pected Cam­pus Al­berta to achieve or how to achieve it,” the re­port said.

The mul­ti­tude of rec­om­men­da­tions in­cluded de­vel­op­ing a strate­gic plan with ex­pected out­comes for Cam­pus Al­berta and pub­licly re­port­ing costs and re­sults.

Other find­ings of the au­di­tor gen­eral’s fall re­port: Cap­i­tal plan­ning: The de­part­ment of in­fra­struc­ture made im­prove­ments to the cap­i­tal plan­ning sys­tem but fur­ther changes are needed in­clud­ing a re­view of main­te­nance pro­grams and their fund­ing. Al­berta Gam­ing and Liquor Com­mis­sion: The agency im­proved its over­sight for IT con­trols, specif­i­cally re­lated to ex­ter­nal con­trac­tors. The up­date ad­dressed a con­cern out­lined in a 2016 au­di­tor re­port. Food safety: Health au­thor­i­ties as well as the de­part­ment of agri­cul­ture and forestry devel­oped an in­te­grated food safety work plan and now pub­licly re­port food safety fa­cil­ity in­spec­tion re­sults on­line. The changes are among those that ad­dressed 10 rec­om­men­da­tions set out by the au­di­tor gen­eral in 2006. En­ergy: The Al­berta En­ergy Reg­u­la­tor and the de­part­ment of en­ergy im­ple­mented a pre­vi­ous rec­om­men­da­tion by jointly as­sess­ing how the oil and gas industry man­ages se­cu­rity risks to its in­dus­trial con­trol sys­tems. Health: Pro­vin­cial health au­thor­i­ties were lauded for im­ple­ment­ing rec­om­men­da­tions set out in 2013 to im­prove in­fec­tion pre­ven­tion and con­trol. Al­berta Health Ser­vices strength­ened its over­sight of hand hy­giene prac­tices in hospi­tals and there was a marked im­prove­ment in how sur­gi­cal ser­vices at non-hos­pi­tal fa­cil­i­ties were mon­i­tored. Two new rec­om­men­da­tions were set out for Pri­mary Care Net­works. The rec­om­men­da­tions con­cerned per­for­mance tar­gets and en­gag­ing Al­ber­tans “as ac­tive par­tic­i­pants in their own care.” Al­berta Trea­sury Board and Fi­nance: Pre­vi­ous rec­om­men­da­tions about poli­cies for CEO se­lec­tion and com­pen­sa­tion were with­drawn due to new leg­is­la­tion. A new au­dit would be needed to make con­clu­sions on ex­ec­u­tive com­pen­sa­tion.

IAN KUCERAK

Af­ter re­leas­ing his fall re­port Thurs­day, au­di­tor gen­eral Mer­wan Sa­her said the man­age­ment of a pro­gram to sup­port Al­berta TV and film pro­duc­tions has been “sub­stan­dard.”

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