Innovation Minister Allen Roach
©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Finance Minister Allen Roach is defending against an allegation he lied in the P.E.I. legislature, saying his office did inform the auditor general of changes they planned to make to ensure all future government loan write-offs are made public.
Roach says his department sent a letter to Auditor General Jane MacAdam on Nov. 10, 2015 informing her of plans to amend the Financial Administration Act.
That letter detailed the changes they planned to address her concerns about millions of dollars being written off every year by Crown corporations.
The letter included wording the department planned to use in its upcoming legislative changes.
Staff from Roach’s office later followed up with the auditor general’s office, Roach said.
“There was ongoing conversation during that time with my staff and her office just to make sure we covered off exactly what it was that she wanted,” Roach said in an interview Thursday with The Guardian.
Opposition MLA Steven Myers is accusing the finance minister of lying in the legislature last December when he said the province’s auditor general reviewed government’s contentious loan write-off bill and gave it a thumbs up.
Roach made five separate statements in the house on Dec. 2, 2015, indicating MacAdam had seen the legislation and was confident it would satisfy the concerns she raised about loan write-offs and cancellations, which she flagged in her 2015 report.
But, MacAdam told the province’s public accounts committee Wednesday she did not see or review the legislation prior to it being introduced in the house last fall.
Roach admits the auditor general was not provided with the final bill, but says the letter sent to her in November did contain the wording they planned to use to make legislative changes.
“I spoke to the auditor general today and I know that she does not review legislation, that’s clearly not her role,” Roach said.
“In the letter that we sent to the auditor general in response to her recommendation, we outlined some of the changes that we were going to make in section 26 (1) of the Financial Administration Act and we were talking about the additions of words that would serve to clarify the application of this provision and ensure it was no longer subject to interpretation.”
Up until 2005, all debts written-off or cancelled by Crown corporations were fully disclosed in executive council orders, which are published and available to the public.
But MacAdam’s investigation in 2015 found provincial lending agencies stopped seeking treasury board or cabinet approval sometime in 2005.
Without these approvals, the write-offs and cancelled debts are not disclosed to the public and also not included in the auditor general's annual audit, thus not available to be viewed or scrutinized by the AG or by taxpayers.
The province introduced changes to the Financial Administration Act last fall, but a number of Opposition MLAs challenged the wording of the bill, notably a loophole allowing cabinet the ability to withhold loan write-off details at its discretion.
It was concern over this wording that prompted Roach to bring up the auditor general and indicate she was satisfied his loan write-off bill would fix the problems.
He says he stands by his statements.
“The opposition can stand up and say whatever they want, whenever they want. But I’ve clearly outlined exactly how the process took place and I stand behind the way that was done.”
Roach says he looks forward to bringing the bill back to the legislature in April.
He would not say whether any changes would be made to address the concerns raised last fall by the Opposition and Green party leader.