Province’s financial books bashed by Auditor General

Auditor General not happy with the Legislative Assembly Management Committee's bookkeeping

The Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC) has come under added scrutiny since British Columbia Auditor General John Doyle’s recent audit pointed to “substantial irregularities” in the Legislature’s financial accounting and “poor governance.”

Among Doyle’s numerous concerns were the committee’s failure to implement his recommendations to improve accountability made five years ago, and internal control deficiencies “so serious and pervasive” he was unable to conclude if the balance sheets were correct.

“… the Legislative Assembly is falling well short of the basic financial management practices established for the rest of government.”

The B.C. Liberal government reported ending the fiscal year with a deficit of $1.84 billion, but Doyle states the recorded deficit would have been more than $500 million higher, at $2.36 billion, had the report been prepared under accepted standards.

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says it’s a case of “two opinions” on the matter – Doyle’s and Finance Minister Kevin Falcon’s.

“The government of British Columbia is using practices that are acceptable, used by other provinces, and we have a class triple-A rating. That’s about as far as I can go with it because I’m not a bookkeeper or an auditor.”

The finance department has experts working for them, but Doyle’s suggestions will always be looked at to see if improvements can be made she adds.

“Our books are in good financial order. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

The LAMC has since released a statement that it will implement all recommendations made by the Auditor General since 2007.

BC Conservative Leader John Cummins says the committee’s commitment to fixing the problems five years after they were identified is “disappointing,” and a knee-jerk reaction to the negative press reaction and public outcry.

“They are scandalized by the shoddy bookkeeping, and I think rightly so….

“When the media focuses on an issue, at times you can get some action, and this one certainly caught the [attention] of the public.”

Cummins adds the “real troubling” aspect is the “sloppy” legislative accounting practices that left half a billion dollars out of the projected deficit.

“That’s not chicken feed, and it’s definitely not chicken feed when you look at the total deficit. It wasn’t that they were out by five per cent…. You have to wonder: ‘how can you be that far out on the numbers and not know it?”

The Public Accounts for the first and last fiscal years in the past decade under the B.C. Liberals show legislative outlays (called Vote 1) have “skyrocketed” by 65.2 per cent, Cummins explains.

The $64 million a year spent in the Vote 1 budget is “not an insignificant amount of money” for legislature management and constituency salaries and expenses.

Compared to lower budget increases for K-12 education (16 per cent) and justice for “protection of persons and property” (2.9 per cent), he notes it was “staggering” to see child welfare spending has decreased by 10.4 per cent since 2001/02.

“Child welfare should be at the top of our priority list.”

The committee’s July 31 statement also indicates that beginning in October, quarterly MLA expenses will be posted online to provide more transparency.

Says Cummins: “The proposals they put forward are reasonable, now we have to see if they actually do what they say; the proof will be in the pudding.

“They’ve been addicted to spending … if you’re going to eliminate deficit, you’ve got to control spending, and at the same time increase revenues.”