The recent apologies by Tourism Minister Robert Henderson and his deputy for improper handling of tourism contracts within their department may have satisfied some members of the legislature's public accounts committee, but they were hardly reassuring. If senior staff weren't aware of proper protocols, as explained by the two officials, then why weren't they? And what assurance does the taxpayer have that the problem has been corrected?
Henderson and his deputy, David MacKenzie, appeared last week before the public accounts committee to respond to questions about $8 million in tourism contracts awarded between 2009 and 2011, which Auditor General Colin Younker identified as problematic in his 2012 annual report. In the report, Younker investigated Tourism P.E.I. and found lack of controls and oversight in some 31 contracts, citing instances where Treasury Board policy was not properly applied, appropriate signing authority was not sought and some contracts were not documented.
To their credit, both Henderson and MacKenzie were candid in their responses. MacKenzie told the committee a lack of knowledge among senior staff about Treasury Board guidelines led to the contracts being improperly handled, something he and Henderson described as unacceptable. Henderson acknowledged that the auditor identified instances "where the department fell short of what Islanders expect. For that we apologize." He also assured committee members he has taken steps to prevent such instances from recurring. "I've informed the department's management team I expect and will demand better."
That's good. So do taxpayers. And while both officials were obviously contrite and sincere in their pledge to address the problems that led to the improper handling of the contracts, the fact it occurred in the first place can't be undone. That the most senior of staff weren't aware of Treasury Board guidelines, that proper signing authority wasn't sought and some contracts weren't documented is troubling.
This department handles millions of dollars of taxpayers' money, and that such basic infractions could occur on the watch of presumably well-paid senior staff can't help but undermine public confidence. It also raises questions about other departments. Has the same casual regard for the rules been the practice there as well?
The lesson here is that in the delivery of public services and the management of the affairs of taxpayers, public employees must be well-trained and well-briefed on the relevant policies governing those responsibilities. As minister of tourism, Robert Henderson was right to apologize and offer assurances that problems have been corrected.
Many police agencies across the Island were reportedly busy this Halloween - an indication of the need for continued public education to discourage vandalism and property crime.
RCMP responded to structural fires, as well as numerous small blazes and general mischief, such as egging and mailbox destruction. There were also incidents of impaired driving.
Police in all communities generally reinforce their ranks on Halloween night, and this year the level of activity was apparently on a par with previous years. But what appears to be needed is a stepped-up public education effort to challenge attitudes that tolerate things like egging, mailbox destruction, tire burning and barn burning. It's all crime, and just because the perpetrators wear a mask doesn't make it cute.
It's not only the victims of such acts that suffer here. So do taxpayers. It's their fire and emergency officials, after all, who have to don gear and respond to these calls. Between now and next Halloween, communities should consider a new approach to public education, one that successfully challenges the attitude that property crime on Halloween falls into the 'prank' category.