Article by Telegraph Journal
Photo by Robert Williams
In her typical calm, dispassionate way, Auditor General Kim MacPherson has once again pulled back the curtain of government secrecy on a stunning abuse of taxpayers money.
After paying a consulting firm, Ernst and Young, a staggering $13 million to find $47 million in savings in the Department of Social Development, the New Brunswick government says only about $10 million had been saved by last year, and MacPherson says she can’t be sure of that amount.
MacPherson’s audit uncovered a number of questionable practices in the procurement process for this contract leading her to complain about a “culture of complacency.”
With the ongoing politicization of the public service and numerous staff turnovers it appears a great deal of misspending simply slips through the cracks because no one is keeping tabs.
Fortunately, our underfunded and under-staffed auditor general’s office is watching as best it can and catching at least some of these boondoggles.
Cabinet minister Serge Rousselle did little to allay concern by simply pointing the finger of blame at the previous Progressive Conservative government, which was in power when the 2013 contract was signed. MacPherson said the Liberals could have used a 2015 extension to tighten the contract’s terms, but they didn’t.
Who will be blamed when MacPherson releases her final audit of the Atcon fiasco and the roughly $70 million of taxpayers money that vanished in loans and grants made by the former Liberal government of Shawn Graham?
MacPherson already has identified a “very troubling disregard” for taxpayers in her initial look at Atcon.
And where will the blame lay when she finishes her audit of the recently uncovered property tax assessment scandal in which hundreds of New Brunswickers saw double-digit increases thanks to a fancy new automated system that invented home renovations and inflated tax bills?
The lack of monetary control and oversight within government, as revealed through reports by the auditor general, is more than troubling – it is terrifying.
Many New Brunswickers – especially those dependent on social assistance – are struggling on parsimonious stipends while successive New Brunswick governments have rewarded corporations and political friends with fat contracts and multi-million-dollar loans and grants.
Government needs to be much more responsive to the findings of our independent auditor general. MacPherson often complains that many of her revelations do not lead to the necessary fixes, whether it’s in health care spending, government support of corporations, procurement processes or road repair priorities.
Once again, we applaud and thank Kim MacPherson for the work she and her small team of auditors and accountants carry out for the people of New Brunswick. If not for the auditor general, the culture of secrecy and complacency within government would prevail.