Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Here we go again: MPs keeping citizens in the dark


Our parliamentarians are incorrigible. For years, their secretive Board of Internal Economy refused attempts by former auditor general Sheila Fraser to audit House of Commons spending, relenting only last June under widespread public pressure and allowing a limited look at the House’s administrative costs and controls. Similar efforts by Ms. Fraser were also rebuked by the Senate’s Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, until it too finally gave in last October.

We now get news that interim Auditor General John Wiersema will submit the soon-to-be-completed performance audits of the two Houses to their respective management boards, and that it will be up to the speakers of the House and Senate to table the audit reports in the House of Commons and Senate chamber. The reports, therefore, will be reviewed in secret before being tabled by the Speakers of each House, making it questionable whether their complete contents will ever be available to the public.

Ordinarily, the auditor general submits draft reports to government departments for review, fact-checking and response to findings, final versions, however, are tabled directly in the Commons. The auditor general is, after all, an officer of Parliament. It is to that full body that his office reports, and not to some management board of Parliament.

There has been quite enough obfuscation over details of MP spending. Reports should be made public as soon as they are completed. There is no reasonable excuse to do otherwise.

Parliament’s governing boards always meet behind closed doors and documentation of their actions and decisions cannot be requested under access to information laws. This level of secrecy is not in the best interest of Canadians. Especially when we have evidence the Board of Internal Economy has acted in a high-handed manner in the past and has, in effect, covered up possible crimes committed by MPs.

Why, for example, were police not called in to investigate three cases of Liberal MPs who filed false spending claims worth thousands of dollars? Ontario Superior Court Justice recently sentenced ex-Liberal Senator Raymond Lavigne to six months in prison for misuse of taxpayer funding, saying, “No one is above the law.” So why have the police not been asked to investigate the false expense claims (details here) of Liberal MPs Judy Sgro, John Cannis and Wayne Easter?

I’ve read about the “mistakes” made by the three MPs when filing their incorrect expense claims. Frankly, none sound like reasonable justifications for their actions, and only police, who are trained in these matters, have the expertise to determine whether there are grounds for laying criminal charges. Surely it must be beyond the scope of the Board of Internal Economy to forgive what could very well be a criminal offence.

Are we governed by the rule of law or by parliamentary management boards?

Canadians are demanding more transparency in government, especially in how our money is spent. The auditor general’s report on administration in the House of Commons and the Senate should be made public as soon as it is finalized. Handing it over to the Board of Internal Economy first is akin to allowing the fox to make the rules for the chicken coop.



© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

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