Call in the au­di­tor gen­eral

Fed­er­a­tion: AG should study books of Op­po­si­tion, Lib­eral back­bench of­fices.

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERESA WRIGHT twright@the­guardian.pe.ca Twit­ter.com/GuardianTeresa

Prince Ed­ward Is­land’s au­di­tor gen­eral should be called in to in­ves­ti­gate the books of the Op­po­si­tion and govern­ment back­benchers’ of­fices, says the At­lantic di­rec­tor for the Cana­dian Tax­pay­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion.

Kevin Lacey says rev­e­la­tions about spend­ing from the op­er­at­ing grants of th­ese of­fices pub­lished over the last week in The Guardian show an in­quiry into th­ese ex­penses is nec­es­sary.

“At the very least, the au­di­tor gen­eral should be al­lowed to look into the books of all th­ese funds to de­ter­mine two things,” Lacey said Mon­day.

“First, if there’s any­thing un­to­ward that is go­ing on with the use of tax­payer money and, se­cond, to rec­om­mend pol­icy pro­ce­dures to en­sure that mis­use of pub­lic money never hap­pens again.”

A Guardian in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed P.E.I. tax­pay­ers paid for­mer Op­po­si­tion chief of staff Kent Avery a to­tal of $18,463.50 seven months af­ter he had been laid off from the Op­po­si­tion of­fice in 2013 and af­ter he had col­lected four months of sev­er­ance pay.

De­tails of this trans­ac­tion were pub­lished in Satur­day’s edi­tion of the pa­per.

Avery’s money came from the Op­po­si­tion of­fice’s op­er­at­ing grant — a fund not in­tended for long-term em­ployee salaries.

For­mer Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive party leader Olive Crane and then-Con­ser­va­tive MLA Hal Perry au­tho­rized the con­tract.

The cheques to Avery came from a so-called “slush fund” — — money granted to the Lib­eral, Tory and Green party back­bench of­fices to help run their daily affairs.

Money from this fund is also used by MLAs for ex­penses, such as mileage, do­na­tions to char­i­ties and fundrais­ing tick­ets.

The Guardian re­vealed last week re­ceipts are not re­quired for th­ese ex­penses and PC MLAs can ac­cess up to $200 a month while Lib­eral back­benchers get up to $300 per month.

This spend­ing is out of reach from the pub­lic eye. Records from all of­fices of the leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly are ex­empt from re­lease un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion and Pro­tec­tion of Pri­vacy Act.

An ac­count­ing of this money must be pre­sented to the prov­ince’s leg­isla­tive man­age­ment com­mit­tee an­nu­ally. But the cau­cus op­er­at­ing grants are not au­dited.

Lacey says it’s time for Au­di­tor Gen­eral Jane Ma­cAdam to step in.

“The au­di­tor gen­eral is the per­fect per­son be­cause (she) is non-par­ti­san and arms-length and is an of­fi­cer of the leg­is­la­ture,” Lacey said.

“All three political par­ties should be will­ing to open up their books to the au­di­tor gen­eral and show them ev­ery­thing that they’ve done to en­sure that tax­pay­ers’ money is be­ing pro­tected.”

Changes should also be made to en­sure all MLA spend­ing is re­leased to the pub­lic, es­pe­cially in light of the pay­ments to Avery from the Op­po­si­tion of­fice’s op­er­at­ing grant which, un­til now, were kept se­cret, Lacey said.

“Th­ese cases are poster childs of why trans­parency is im­por­tant and why the govern­ment should act im­me­di­ately to put in a fully trans­par­ent process for ex­penses to en­sure the tax­payer can judge for them­selves whether or not th­ese ex­penses are right or wrong and also have the right to view th­ese ex­penses, since they’re the ones who pay for them.”

Premier Wade MacLauch­lan was not made avail­able for an in­ter­view, but a state­ment from his of­fice said his cau­cus is “plan­ning to post ad­di­tional ex­penses in the new year and an­tic­i­pates hav­ing some­thing in place be­fore the leg­is­la­ture opens.”

Ma­cAdam

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