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I am writing to express my gratitude to Mr. Martin Ruben for reminding us of how our provincial government's main estimates and accountability process, are not quite up to scratch (Review of the government’s estimates is a waste of time, July 7). It seems the Westminster system is preferred for the two-party, first-past-the-post electoral system, but not so much for the purpose of accountability.
For the past two decades, and perhaps before, the accountability process on P.E.I. has been less than satisfactory. We could start with the shameful PNP process where millions and millions of dollars went to Liberal party supporters and some Liberal elected officials. It was recent enough that Islanders remember all too well. Suffice it to say that the audit process prompted by public outrage was a joke, much to the chagrin of the auditor general and voters. The government of the day was less than helpful. In the end, it seems the AG had to work with files selected for review by the program managers.
Then came the e-gaming fiasco. An abhorrent politically created scandal. To complicate matters, those involved held positions at the highest levels of government, where stonewalling is a science.
In addition to financial discrepancies, it is reported that government files were deliberately destroyed, contrary to the Archive and Records Act. In her final report on the matter, the privacy commissioner stated the provincial government “deliberately withheld" information. The case is still before the courts pending a legal decision but locals are skeptical justice will be served. The incident occurred during a previous administration. Strangely, the current leadership shows not interest in getting to the bottom of the matter. Recent administrations do not respect the rules of democracy and that is how democracies die.
The former auditor general retired recently after several years of dedicated service and, doubtlessly, much head crashing with elected officials. The province has hired a new auditor general who, from all reports, does not have the credentials to conduct a public audit. The clerk of the legislative assembly, who is responsible for the auditor's hiring, does not see this as a problem. But it is a problem, the candidate should not have been screened in to begin with.
When one considers how much disrespect successive governments have shown the citizens of this province and the lack of accountability or due process, you can’t help but wonder, was it deliberate or an oversight? In either event the hiring should not be allowed to stand. One can’t imagine why an experienced staffing officer would consider hiring a candidate for such an crucial position and at such a critical time, without the necessary qualifications. The staffing process must be credible and seen to be credible.
Most recently citizens have been asking more questions; questions about the ownership of huge stockpiles of topsoil along the Cornwall Bypass, a $58-million project undertaken last year.
During the course of the construction, contractors piled large amounts of quality topsoil along the new highway. Piles containing hundreds of thousands cubic yards of topsoil have pretty well been dispersed through the spring and summer. Much has gone to local construction in the area. Whether the sites were government or private is not known. If the province paid to have the topsoil amassed and saved, then surely it belongs to the province. And surely there must be a value attached.
In his article, Mr. Ruben notes our provincial government is not very good at providing full accountability for completed projects. Incidents such as this remove any doubt.
In today’s political environment it is doubtful any of our civil servants or elected officials would be anxious to provide any details about the above issues. We appear to have a very partisan political system catering to corporate P.E.I. Because of this, it is now commonplace to have Liberal deputy ministers advising a Conservative minority government.
In our present day system, the deputy ministers do not appear before the assembly, unless it is unavoidable. It seems government does not want the DMs testifying under oath before any committee. Nevertheless, they are required to by legislation and failure to do so is a dereliction of duty.
It remains then, that the accountability process falls to officials such as the ATIP commissioner and the auditor general. Both are crucial in providing transparency and accountability. If the past is any indicator, they will not get any help from the executive.
Which brings us back to the Cornwall Bypass: will we ever get a full accounting of the expenditures incurred ?
Wayne Carver is a member of Vision P.E.I. who lives in Longcreek