Auditor general Jane MacAdam
©Heather Taweel/The Guardian
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 topostadditional expenses in the new year and anticipates having something in place before the legislature opens.”