‘Sub-stan­dard’ man­age­ment found

Au­di­tor gen­eral says Al­berta tele­vi­sion and film in­dus­try grant lacked fi­nan­cial over­sight

Edmonton Sun - - NEWS - ClarE ClaNCy

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 sub-stan­dard,” 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 out-of-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 ScreenBased 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.

Sa­her 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 post­sec­ondary 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.

“Cam­pus Al­berta rec­om­men­da­tions were a di­rec­tion the pre­vi­ous govern­ment was tak­ing,” Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Mar­lin Sch­midt said Thurs­day.

He added while the rec­om­men­da­tions are rel­e­vant, the man­dates of Al­berta’s post­sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions are cur­rently un­der re­view. “We won’t be bound by it.” @clare­clancy

IaN KuCEraK/Post­mediA

Au­di­tor Gen­eral Mer­wan Sa­her’s fall re­port cov­ered a slew of top­ics rang­ing from food safety to in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy.

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