MLAs welcome more transparency

Local MLAs and two MLA candidates have weighed in on the auditor general’s report on the state of the B.C. Legislature’s finances.

Local MLAs and two MLA candidates have weighed in on the auditor general’s report on the state of the B.C. Legislature’s finances.

In his review, Auditor General John Doyle said years of neglect resulted in a $1.3-billion discrepancy in the legislature.

The Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC) met last Tuesday to discuss the report and agreed to implement all of the recommendations contained in it.

“All actions will follow the principles of openness, public accountability and transparency and the committee will implement all recommendations made by the auditor general since 2007,” the committee said in a prepared statement. “The committee has full confidence that all MLAs have submitted receipts for their expenses as required. Annual expenses are released in the public accounts every July. However, to provide more openness to British Columbians, beginning in October,  quarterly MLA expenses will be posted online starting with the expenses for the first two quarters of this current fiscal year.”

An internal audit and risk management sub-committee, comprised of the Speaker and the two caucus chairs, has been created to review all audit reports and will report back to LAMC.

Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson says the committee should have dealt with the issue after the auditor general raised the same concerns n 2007.

“They were the ones that didn’t address it over the last five years,” Simpson says. “I am struggling a little bit with the fact that LAMC seems to be acting as if some third party dropped the ball and now they have to pick it up.”

However, Simpson says it is good that the committee will start publishing MLA expense reports and then look at publishing the constituency and other reports.

Simpson has already been publishing some of his expense reports, including travel expenses, online. In September, he plans to have his office also publish his constituency office and legislative office accounts.

“The idea that we now have to delay in order to get the constituency office accounts all set up again is just not necessary,” he says. “There is no complication. There is no issue about software or anything. It’s a matter of lack of will on the part of the legislative management committee to do it.”

He notes the auditor general has been clear that he is not saying anybody has done anything untoward, though Doyle also noted he can’t rule out that no one is abusing the system, due to there being a lack of information.

“It’s just that the bookkeeping, accounting, and reporting is not standardized and not transparent,” Simpson says.

Liberal Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says she welcomes anyone to take a look at her books at any time if they have questions.

“My staff looks after the constituency account and certainly obey all the rules and regulations,” Barnett says. “My books are open and anything else to be transparent is what should be done.

She says 90 per cent of her expenses are related to travel.

She says she is disappointed the recommendations made in 2007 were never implemented, but notes she was not an MLA at the time.

“My colleagues, Mr. Simpson and Mr. (Charlie) Wyse were there at the time and it appears now that it’s a political issue,” Barnett says. “If you were there back then things should have changed.”

She says she is glad to see the committee has brought forward the report and it’s now public.

She says it’s not known yet how much MLA-expense details will be required to be public, but she says in order to be open and transparent more information than what an MLA’s travel expenses are should be provided.

“Why did you travel there? If you went to a meeting, what was the meeting? … I think you have to be fully transparent.”

Before posting any of her expenses online, Barnett says she wants to wait and see what the guidelines are.

“It has to be uniform,” she says. “I think there will be some real stringent guidelines — I am hoping there will be. Instead of trying to get political points, I am going to wait and see what the guidelines are, and I hope they are very stringent.”

Independent candidate for the Cariboo Chilcotin Gary Young has also weighed in on the report’s revelations and says all government accounting needs to be exact, justified, and visible.

He says the issue involves not only the B.C. Liberal MLAs, but also the NDP and Conservatives.

“It is obvious it seems that the NDP is complicit in the MLA expenditure mess.

“Instead of trying to clean it up, making the NDP MLAs more openly responsible, the official Opposition does the same with our tax dollars.”

Cariboo-Chilcotin NDP candidate and former MLA Charlie Wyse says the report from the auditor general is long overdue and agrees with Doyle’s recommendations.

“The auditor general has been quite clear that things need to be tightened up in the legislature as far as expenses go,” Wyse says. “I support what the auditor general is suggesting and whatever the experts say are necessary I support.”

He adds the expenditure of public money should be open to public scrutiny.

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