Pos­si­ble probe

P.E.I. au­di­tor gen­eral con­sid­ers au­dit of MLA slush fund

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERESA WRIGHT

P.E.I.’s au­di­tor gen­eral says she is con­sid­er­ing look­ing into spend­ing by the govern­ment back­bench and Op­po­si­tion of­fices, which in­cludes a so-called slush fund avail­able for MLA ex­penses.

Jane Ma­cAdam says an au­dit of the Lib­eral and Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive cau­cus of­fices is not cur­rently on her planned au­dit sched­ule, but she is aware of the pub­lic dis­cus­sions on the is­sue and this could change her plans.

“I will con­sider it,” Ma­cAdam said.

A Guardian in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed last week that P.E.I. tax­pay­ers paid a for­mer Op­po­si­tion chief of staff more than $18,000 seven months af­ter he had been laid off from the Op­po­si­tion of­fice in 2013 and af­ter he had col­lected four months of sev­er­ance pay.

The money came from a so­called 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.

PC MLAs can ac­cess $200 a month while Lib­eral back­benchers get $300 per month for ex­penses. They are not re­quired to sub­mit re­ceipts.

This year, the govern­ment and Op­po­si­tion of­fices were each given $120,400 in op­er­at­ing grants, not in­clud­ing salaries for of­fice staff, which come from a sep­a­rate salary ac­count.

Green party Leader Peter Be­van-Baker has be­gun post­ing a full break­down of money spent from his of­fice’s op­er­at­ing grant of $20,000, list­ing ev­ery­thing from bank fees to postage stamps.

But un­less they vol­un­tar­ily choose to re­lease this in­for­ma­tion, as Be­van-Baker has done, spend­ing within the cau­cus of­fices 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 ev­ery year. But the cau­cus op­er­at­ing grants are not au­dited.

Ma­cAdam says some of the in­for­ma­tion that has come to light about spend­ing in th­ese of­fices was new to her.

“Up un­til this point I didn’t have a lot of in­for­ma­tion on how the sys­tem worked, so it’s new in­for­ma­tion to me… in terms of the re­ports that are pre­pared,” she said.

“I’m not fa­mil­iar with that be­cause we’ve never done any stand-alone work on the leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly.”

Cur­rently, Ma­cAdam and her staff have their hands full pre­par­ing the 2016 an­nual re­port as well as con­tin­u­ing to work on a spe­cial au­dit into the con­tro­ver­sial e-gam­ing file, re­quested last year by the premier.

But once that work is com­plete, Ma­cAdam says she would con­sider delv­ing into MLA ex­penses and of­fice spend­ing.

“I would make a de­ci­sion in the com­ing months,” she said.

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