‘Substantial irregularities’ in B.C. legislature spending

B.C.'s Auditor General John Doyle says there is little documentation to support MLA travel expenses

(From left) BC Liberal MLA Marc Dalton represents Maple Ridge-Mission

(From left) BC Liberal MLA Marc Dalton represents Maple Ridge-Mission

The public’s money is still being spent willy-nilly with no requirement for receipts when paying out expenses to MLAs, says B.C.’s financial watchdog.

In his latest audit of the legislature’s finances, Auditor General John Doyle says the legislature is mired in “poor governance” with “substantial irregularities” in financial reporting, such as not preparing proper monthly bank statements.

Neither is there any separation between purchasing goods and services and reimbursing MLAs, while legislature expenses were shifted from one year to the next to stay on budget and that about $2 million in transitional payments to MLAs were not included in compensation figures.

When it comes to paying MLAs for their travel expenses, the legislature was “consistently unable” to give documentation supporting MLA travel expense claims.

“It’s not good,” agrees Michael Sather, NDP MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, who says the comptroller general should have more control over the legislature’s funds.

According to Doyle’s report from last week, the legislative assembly still doesn’t produce financial statements, despite his recommendation from five years ago to do exactly that.

He still can’t determine whether figures for the years 2009 to 2011 are accurate.

“The lack of adequate documentation greatly impedes the comptroller’s ability to verify payments …”

Liberal MLA Marc Dalton (Maple Ridge-Mission) is surprised to hear that expenses are paid without documentation.

He has to submit all travel expenses before he gets reimbursed. “You don’t get your payment unless you submit the forms.

“I’m not downplaying what he’s [the auditor general] saying, I’m just saying I’m surprised to hear him say that.”

He pointed out that MLAs have to run their office and pay for their staff – all out of an annual constituency office allowance of $119,000.

Leasing expenses are paid separately.

Nevertheless, the systems used to pay politicians seem to nullify the need for some receipts.

Sather gets a monthly “capital city living allowance” of about $1,000 to pay for his accommodation costs in Victoria. A receipt isn’t required because MLAs are simply paid the flat amount, regardless of their housing costs.

MLAs, however, can also rent a condo and get a $1,600 monthly allowance for that or they can stay in a hotel and get reimbursed about $18,000 yearly.

MLAs also get a flat rate travel allowance for moving about within their within constituencies. For Sather, that works out to about $230 monthly, while for larger ridings will get a larger allowance. Receipts aren’t required.

When it comes to meal expenses, politicians get a flat allowance for any breakfast, lunch or dinners they have in restaurants outside their ridings.

That’s capped at about $62 day, allowing MLAs to get breakfast, lunch and dinner costs covered when they’re working away from home. But receipts aren’t required there either. All a politician has to do is say they had lunch or breakfast in order to get reimbursed, he pointed out.

Sather agrees that’s an area where cheaters could prosper.

“You could cheat if you didn’t have lunch at all, for example. People could cheat.”

He agrees that could be tightened up, although more paper work would be required.

“It’s true, that it does open the possibility for somebody to cheat.”

Receipts are required for MLA travel costs outside the riding, such as for hotel, airfare or car expenses within B.C.. MLAs who are travelling outside B.C. require the approval of the Speaker of the House.

Sather said both the opposition and government MLAs have input on controlling legislative dollars through their membership on the Legislative Assembly Management Committee and says that group should have a larger role in controlling finances.

“I think there should be more of an oversight role in how expenses are done.”

He also said it’s an unclear relationship between the committee and the comptroller.

“I don’t know that it’s working as well as it should.”

But Doyle points out that the management committee has little say in the legislature’s finances or operations and says he hasn’t even been given the chance to discuss his report with the committee, given the “pervasive” and “significant” nature of the issues.

The management committee was supposed to meet Tuesday this week to discuss the report.

Meanwhile,  B.C. Conservative party has said that the chair of that committee, and the Speaker of the House, Bill Barisoff, should resign.

“Not only has he failed to implement recommendations to improve accountability that were made by the Auditor General five years ago, he has exhibited a lackadaisical – almost negligent – attitude towards the use or mis-use of taxpayers’ funds, party leader John Cummins said in a release.

 

MLA salaries and expenses for fiscal year ending March 31:

• Marc Dalton, Maple Ridge-Mission:

Salary: $102,138, Victoria living allowance: $16,372, Travel expenses: $19,573

• Michael Sather, Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows:

Salary: $102,138, Victoria living allowance: $14,121, Travel expenses: $18,236

 

 

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