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Wednesday, 27 November 2013 13:27

Senate scandal simply another chapter in gov’t mismanagement

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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The Senate expense scandal is still dragging on with no clear answers yet on who knew what and when they knew it.

The apparent inappropriate spending of taxpayer money and alleged efforts by the Harper government to make a political embarrassment go away will do little to increase public confidence in the accountability of public officials.
A recent report on federal government failures in Canada, which was published by the Fraser Institute on Oct. 31, provides another bleak view on government waste and mismanagement.
The study examined Auditor General reports from 1988 to 2013. It found 614 cases of government failures that included cost overruns, unnecessary spending, inefficiencies and inaccurate financial reporting.
According to the report, the federal government has misused between $158 billion and $197 billion over this 25-year period, but it cautioned that it is only an estimate and the actual amount might even be higher.
The list of government failures varies from some high profile cases in the recent past to some long forgotten ones.
The Sponsorship Program resulted in a public enquiry and the eventual defeat of Paul Martin’s Liberal government in the 2006 federal election by a Conservative Party under the leadership of Stephen Harper.
There are many examples of mismanagement during a succession of Liberal governments. In 1990 the Auditor General found the Canadian Coast Guard’s icebreaker modernization was not based on a “demonstrated need” and the initial $51 million cost increased to $125 million.
In 1997 the Auditor General found that balances on public servant credit cards were not paid on time, which resulted in $80,000 in extra interest costs over four months.
In 2002 the Auditor General reported the Department of National Defence spent $174 million over eight years to develop a satellite communication system, but then found its existing system was more efficient and could be operated with fewer staff.
In the same year a review of the Firearms Registry indicated the program’s cost has increased from an estimated $119 million in 1995 to more than $1 billion in 2002.
The Auditor General highlighted the misuse of acquisition credit cards by RCMP employees in a 2006 report. One cardholder purchased personal car insurance and gym membership and another person tried to hide the purchase of a camera and equipment by splitting bills.
Voters who were hoping for less wasteful government under a Conservative banner have probably been disappointed.
As was the case in the past, military procurement has continued to be a problem. In 2009 the Auditor General found that four military vehicle procurement projects at a cost of $1.1 billion did not follow Treasury Board guidelines.
Delays in a $5.7-billion maritime helicopter procurement project resulted in the spending of an additional $168 million to repair and overhaul the existing helicopters and the F-35 fighter jet procurement did not include the cost of at least $1.2 billion in upgrades.
The Auditor General reported a lack of transparency in the $50-million infrastructure fund for the 2010 G8 summit with no records to show how 32 approved projects were selected and a $9.75-million facility expansion project was not used as originally proposed.
The Fraser Institute report suggests several ways to reduce government waste. Its stance in favour of less government and an emphasis on privatization and public-private partnerships will not be shared by all Canadians.
There will be more common agreement on the report’s proposals for improved internal control and monitoring mechanisms in government, for example the allocation of more resources to the Auditor General, expanding the scope of audits to include Crown corporations and government foundations and mandatory audit compliance.
It will also require ongoing improvements to Canada’s access to information laws.
The Information Commissioner of Canada annual report to Parliament, which was tabled on Oct. 17, emphasized the need to modernize the 30-year-old Access to Information Act.
Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has proposed amendments to the Act to include administrative records under the control of Parliament.
Unfortunately, the political will for such reforms is often lacking. Support for more accountability and transparency in election platforms usually vanish after success at the polls, when the emphasis shift towards message control. The only antidote to such political expediency is for voters to be more vocal on the importance of government transparency and to demand accountability through the ballot box.
Matthew Liebenberg is a reporter with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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