Film producers took advantage of loose grant rules
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.
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.”