‘Rules were broken’ over G8/G20 summit spending: Auditor-General
By Jason Fekete
OTTAWA — The federal Auditor-General ratcheted up his criticism Wednesday of the Harper government’s spending on the G8 and G20 summits, detailing serious concerns about broken rules, potentially misleading expenditure requests and ministers hand-picking projects to receive funding.
Speaking to the House of Commons public accounts committee about his spring report, interim Auditor-General John Wiersema scolded the Conservative government for a “one-of-a-kind” situation unlike anything he has ever seen in his 33 years working in the A-G’s office.
Wiersema repeated many of the concerns first raised in the A-G’s June report, but explained in much greater detail the problems his office uncovered with the government’s management and fiscal oversight of G8 and G20 spending.
The government rushed through spending on the June 2010 G8 and G20 summits without proper documentation or explanation to parliamentarians about how the cash would be spent, he said.
He said government ignored normal protocols when approving infrastructure projects for the G8 summit in the riding of Tory minister Tony Clement — now Treasury Board president — bypassing public servants who generally determine what projects receive funding.
“Rules were broken,” Wiersema told reporters following the committee meeting. “Lawyers could have an interesting debate as to whether any laws were broken.”
The interim A-G said he’s “very concerned” that no government documents exist to explain how the Conservatives selected 32 municipal projects in Clement’s Parry Sound-Muskoka riding that were included in a $50-million G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund.
“Supporting documentation is important for transparency and accountability,” he said.
The $50-million was spent in the lead-up to the summit on a variety of projects ranging from the construction of a gazebo, public washrooms and sidewalk upgrades many kilometres from the G8 event site in Huntsville.
Public servants generally would have a say in which government projects should receive funding, Wiersema told the committee. But in the case of the G8 summit, then-infrastructure minister John Baird approved the funding based on the advice of Clement.
“The normal process would be that ministers would not be involved in that level of detail of project selection. That would be the work of the public service,” he added.
Just as troubling for Wiersema is that when government sought parliamentary approval for the spending, it folded the $50-million into an $83-million infrastructure fund that MPs were told was intended to reduce border congestion. Clement’s riding isn’t near the border.
“It’s not right,” Wiersema said.
He also recounted other details of his June report, which noted that parliamentarians were left in the dark on the total costs of hosting the G8 summit in Hunstville, Ont., and the G20 summit in Toronto in June 2010. Members of Parliament eventually approved $1.1-billion in spending for summits that were likely to cost only $664-million.
A short time-frame to prepare for the summits had departments scrambling together budgets, he noted.
“Questions of expediency should not trump transparency,” he said.
Questioned by Conservative MPs on the committee about the G8 fund, Wiersema noted it’s clear the government got the goods and services it paid for and that the issue is not the same as the Liberal sponsorship scandal.
He also said there’s no reason to believe his office was deliberately misled, and doesn’t see the value of another audit on the matter.
Clement, who is now responsible for reining in government expenditures, has said he is willing to appear at a parliamentary committee to answer questions about his involvement in the controversial G8 fund.
Opposition parties have accused the government of creating a slush fund to get good publicity for Clement in his riding so he would be re-elected. New Democrats are calling on the parliamentary ethics committee to investigate the minister’s involvement in determining how the cash was spent.
“Tony Clement is at the centre of every problem that we’ve seen with the G8 legacy fund,” NDP pitbull MP Charlie Angus said following the committee meeting. “This minister broke the rules. This minister misled the Auditor-General — that’s serious business.”
Clement said earlier Wednesday he was “looking forward to” the Auditor-General appearing before the public accounts committee. The minister also noted he’ll probably appear at a committee to discuss the matter shortly after Parliament resumes following next week’s Thanksgiving break.
Baird, who’s now foreign affairs minister, has also said he will appear at the committee.
Clement has been under attack for several weeks in the House of Commons for refusing to answer questions on the controversy. The NDP and Liberals ramped up their attacks in the wake of newly-released documents that sparked new questions about whether the minister had a hand in allocating the cash.
The NDP say documents they obtained through access-to-information laws from the town of Huntsville, Ont., in Clement’s riding, suggest the minister interfered in deciding how the $50-million fund would be spent. They insist Clement circumvented “all normal checks and balances” that usually go into funding decisions.
Baird came to Clement’s defence once again Wednesday, saying the auditor general had full access to information regarding the 32 projects and that all were built on time and on budget.
The government has “completely accepted (the A-G’s) good advice” that included recommendations for improved transparency and accountability, he said.
In a separate audit discussed at committee, Wiersema said a review of the Reserve Force Pension Plan found that the Department of National Defence “dropped the ball” in developing the plan. Approximately 9,000 reservists in the plan have sought to buy back past service, but fewer than 400 of the requests had been processed at the time of the audit, he noted.
“Reservists have been treated extremely poorly,” Wiersema said. “If I was a reservist, I would be outraged with this.”
continue reading source:
Remember, politics is a contact sport, like hockey, so please feel free to add quick contributions, observations and relevant information as a comment below!
Contact us if you would like to contribute to our collaborative efforts or would like to share/submit articles, data or additional content, feel free to add feedback, additional info, alternative contact details, related links, articles, anonymous submission, etc. as a comment below, via web-form, through social media outlets or email us directly and confidentially at: dumpharper [at] live [dot] ca
This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in an effort to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. and intend its use to be for education and instructional purposes only. Therefore, we believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond “fair use,” you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
ShareAlike Statement: https://dumpharper.wordpress.com/sharealike/