It’s hard to know what to think about B.C. Auditor General John Doyle’s report on the keeping of books at the Legislative Assembly.
The report was released late Thursday and is, deservedly, causing quite a sensation, for Doyle doesn’t mince words about what he thinks of how our MLAs manage their own peanut stand.
Even the title on his press release read more like a newspaper headline than a simple announcement: “Auditor General reveals messy finances at the Legislature,” it said.
The press release goes on to say that his report, called Audit of the Legislative Assembly’s Financial Records,” shows “substantial irregularities regarding the Legislature’s financial accounting, in addition to poor governance.”
He urged immediate steps to fix the problem, pointing out that his office first raised it in 2007.
“Unfortunately, I have not been provided an opportunity to discuss any part of this audit with the governing body of the Legislative Assembly,” wrote Doyle.
“And, while Legislative Assembly management has provided responses to the management letter recommendations arising from this audit, neither their responses nor their action plans adequately address many of my concerns.”
That’s the short version — the report itself is only 17 pages long and well worth the read. Going back five years, Doyle’s office identified problems with general accounting, internal controls, data management and public reporting.
Had the Legislative Assembly followed his recommendations then, he says, the books would be in better shape today. Instead, the Assembly “is clearly falling well short of these basic expectations.” Deficiencies are “numerous and pervasive.”
To step back for a moment, it works something like this — the Legislature needs money to operate. It does so separately from the rest of the provincial government under a legislative comptroller.
The comptroller keeps an eye on how money is spent, while the House speaker is responsible for “day-to-day administration” of the Legislative Assembly. In addition, the speaker chairs the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, which includes representation from the government and the opposition.
Many people probably don’t even know such a committee exists, but it does, and it has a $63-million budget to run the legislature.
Doyle goes into some detail on the particular deficiencies in the bookkeeping of the Assembly, and then cites what he sees as lack of management oversight, lack of supporting documentatiopn for expenses, and lack of disclosure of MLAs’ payments.
Much of it will be of interest to accountants; to the general public, the main question is, “does anybody in Victoria know what the hell they’re doing?”
There’s not a kind word for the management committee in the entire report. There will be, of course, much finger-pointing. Already, House Speaker Bill Barisoff is on the defensive, offering re-assurances that his committee is on the case.
To which Doyle has responded, “I think the Speaker might not appreciate the gravity of the findings and hasn’t yet quite worked out what this means properly, and what his responsibilities are.”
Doyle isn’t going to ease up , either. The report doesn’t include an audit of the $119,000 constituency office allowance provided to each MLA, “except to the extent to which it was used to pay the salaries of Constituency Office Assistants and to ensure that no more than the maximum annual allowance was paid to each Member.”
But before the year is out, he intends to do a full audit of constituency office records and payments.