Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Auditor General has become part of the problem, not the solution


Here’s what we know.  In the first week of February Auditor General Doyle told Business in Vancouver magazine that he would have stayed in British Columbia if his appointment had been “automatically renewed as expected.”  (The Times Colonist reported this on February 5th.

Here’s something else we know.  A few days after it became public that the Legislative Committee responsible for the appointment of the Auditor General was not going to recommend Doyle’s re-appointment, confidential information in the form of a so-called management report concerning the Auditor General’s examination into the constituency office renovation expenses of the MLA for Vernon Monashee – who was chair of the committee – was leaked to a Times Colonist reporter.

Here’s what we don’t know: who leaked that constituency office “management report”?  It could have been any number of people who were on the distribution list for that report.  I certainly hope it wasn’t an Auditor General who was angry that he was not going to be re-appointed.

Here’s something more we know.  As of today the Auditor General has informed the media that he has five more reports he intends to release.

Typically, Auditor General reports are tabled in the Legislative Assembly if the House is sitting.  That’s what the law requires, and it's how they became public.

I think there is reason for concern that the Auditor General apparently decided to delay the release of these five reports until after the House adjourned.

But I am more concerned that, less than three weeks before the writ for the May election is issued, the Auditor General is indicating his intention to release five more reports.

That feels to me like an Auditor General who wants to influence the electoral process.  And that is not his job.

There is no reason why his reports cannot wait to be issued until after the election.  I know the usual suspects will howl at me that this is just a ruse to help the Liberals avoid accountability.  Well, if the Auditor General had wanted to hold the Liberals accountable for something more than he has already reported about, he should have issued these reports months ago.  I think he’s too late now.  He's become part of the problem, not part of the solution.

More's the pity.  Becuase if this train keeps barreling down the track it’s on, which at this point looks inevitable, sooner or later someone will realize that we are not supposed to be governed by unelected, unaccountable officers of the Legislature and the Auditor General Act will be amended to curtail the powers of the office because the circus that has become his office is not healthy for democracy.   The Auditor General is supposed to be an impartial analyst of public administration, not the star attraction in a political gongshow.  

7 comments:

  1. The idea of introducing a requirement of only releasing reports by independent officers when the legislature is sitting is a non-starter. The idea that a report on danger to children in the government's care, or a major privacy breach, would remain secret for six months or more because the legislature isn't in session is unacceptable.

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    1. Section 11(8) of the Auditor General Act establishes the procedure for most of the AG reports, not including the main annual audit of the financial statements. The Act requires that reports be transmitted to the Speaker. If the Legislature is sitting, or scheduled to sit within 5 days, the Speaker is required to lay the report before the Legislative Assembly. If the legislature is not sitting, the Speaker must forward the report to MLAs and release it to the public. And then the reports are to be referred to the Public Accounts Committee. So the Auditor General has the power to issue a report when the Legislature is not sitting, knowing that the Speaker is required to release it. I don't quarrel with that provision. My point is that it is irresponsible for an Auditor General - and I would say disrespectful - to delay the issuance of as many as five reports until after the Legislature has adjourned, and it is particularly irresponsible to release these reports only three weeks before the electoral writ is issued.

      The Representative for Children and Youth Act has different provisions for the release of her reports.

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  2. Seriously Geoff, are you telling me you haven't been following the details of this story? The disrespect has ALL been on the side of the Government. Either the Auditor General is AN INDEPENDENT officer of the crown or he's not. It's clear that your old colleagues don't much like independence.
    Might I also suggest you read the report.
    BTW I thought you weren't writing for 'anyone' anymore - How is it that virtually all your rants seem to indicate you have someone's interests (other than your own) in mind.
    Namaste.

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  3. The auditor general says this report was delayed by the obstruction of the Pacific Carbon Trust. If true, any disrespect rests with the trust and the minister responsible. (The PCT response suggests that is true. In my days as a corporate manager, I would never have had the arrogance or foolishness to suggest that the problem with an unfavourable auditor's report was that the firm didn't understand our business. Nor would shareholders accept such a claim.)
    The underlying problem is that many citizens do not believe accountability is provided in other ways. The legislature, QP or debates, is not effective. Government MLAs are not seen as real participants in setting policy. FOI provisions are subverted by delay and tactics like communicating through personal emails and avoiding any written record.
    The independent officers by default become more important.
    If they are becoming too important, MLAs need to reclaim a real role - and convince citizens they are effective.

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  4. First, to reply to the anonymous individual who calls him/herself G West, I would say this. Did you even read my actual blog post? It's clear that when you refer to the "report" you are talking about the Carbon Trust report released today. It's equally clear that I did not refer to this report in my blogpost. So, thanks for completely missing the point. Anyone who, anonymously, begins a reply with the words "Seriously Geoff" is probably not serious. But if, whoever you are, you are serious, then let me tell you that I have been concerned about the risks associated with independent officers of the legislature for a long time. I have taught about these issues and written about them. This has got nothing to do with whichever party is in power, and everything to do with the roles and responsibilities of legislative officers. Nothing in my blogpost yesterday is the least bit complementary to or critical of the BC Liberals.

    Second, "paul" also writes about the Pacific Carbon Trust. I deliberately didn't write about that issue yesterday because I wasn't sure I knew or trusted the facts as they were emerging. Clearly there was a problem associated with the way that report was produced and ultimately released and I'm very troubled by everything I've heard, and have to say I'm still not sure who did what to whom and when. Auditor Generals do not have the authority to express opinions on the policy wisdom of government initiatives, but they are empowered to investigate whether a program is achieving its stated objectives. An Auditor General is not entitled to substitute his objectives for those a program says it is intending to achieve, but is perfectly entitled to express his opinion on whether the program is doing what its creators intended. Any attempt to obstruct the Auditor General in the performance of this function is illegitimate. But I don't know whether what happened here amounts to obstruction; what I do know is that there has sure been lots of spin from everyone on that issue today. One more thing. The complaint that has been made by some today that the Auditor General doesn't know anything about carbon offsets seems to me to be beside the point. The Auditor General doesn't need to be an expert about carbon offsets; he just needs to be good at determining whether a program is doing what it is supposed to do. If that's what he's done here, then he's doing his job. If he did something more than that - and I admit I haven't read his report yet - then he's left himself open to criticism.

    I completely agree with Paul's comment that the underlying problem is that many citizens do not believe accountability is provided in other ways, and that the real remedy here is for MLAs to reclaim their proper role, and convince citizens they are effective. But in this context the Auditor General is just one more public official. His opinions are important, but they are, in the end, just opinions, and I give him no more deference than he earns through the diligence of his work and the force of his reasoning. Too many people just assume that because he's the Auditor General he is, by definition, "right" about everything he says and does. That's nonsense.

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  5. Sorry, thought the Google profile provided a full name with my comment.
    Paul Willcocks

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