Business as usual, unfortunately

Michael Johansen
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Some people in Sheshatshiu are not pleased with what has happened to the rent money they've been paying to the Innu band council.
Most in this community of around 2,000 live in housing that was purchased or built by the band council, using public funds. The tenants are expected to pay a monthly rent for 10 years before taking over full ownership. However, by all accounts very few of those who owe rent money have ever paid it. As the band council's accountants pointed out to their clients, only social assistance recipients and council employees had to pay their bills because they were the only ones who could have the amounts deducted from their paycheques.
But that's not what's bothering the 30 or so band council, health commission, and child care employees who contributed a total of $54,658.67 to the band council's bank account in the 2002/2003 fiscal year. They say they don't mind paying the rent. It gives them a sense of ownership and they look forward with pride to when the houses become theirs. Nor are they bothered by those who aren't paying any rent at all. They call it none of their business and they mean it.
What bothers them is the $42,184.67 the band council paid the very same year to two Innu leaders, amounts which appear as the only accounts payable on the rental income ledger. This money, split almost evenly in half, was only a down payment. As reads a copy of a band council resolution (dated March 11, 2002):
"The Sheshatshiu Innu Band Council has agreed to a one-time only payment of $50,000 on the mortgage of Peter Penashue and a one-time only payment of $50,000 on the mortgage of Paul Rich. Funding will be derived from rental income earned in the fiscal year 2001/2002 and rental income earned in the subsequent years."
At the time Penashue was president of the Innu Nation and Rich was chief of the Sheshatshiu band council. They justified the payments on the grounds of fairness, saying that since everybody else in the community got help with housing, then so should they.
That's not the only concern that has cropped up with housing. The accountants, Gardner and Coombs, also pointed out that, "During the year council reimbursed certain individuals for renovations previously carried out on their homes. In one situation the renovations were carried out in 1995."
Disgruntled Sheshatshiu residents say it's all part of a pattern that goes back decades, one that allowed the chief and council to enjoy inflated honoraria and gives them free rein with credit cards. They had looked for help from the current chief, since she ran for the office on a platform of finding out where the money went.
"Since being elected I have had the opportunity to review some of the financial records of this community and it is immediately apparent that there are very serious problems with the way in which spending has been carried out," she wrote to Sheila Fraser, the Auditor General of Canada, in May 2004. "There seems to be a prima facie case that much of this spending could properly be characterized as corrupt financial practice."
Now those disgruntled people say she is breaking her promise and stifling the openness she was supposed to give to the community's government.
"We understand that the present Chief Anastasia Qupee initiated an investigation against the former Chief Paul Rich and his council but have since terminated these allegations," one prominent resident recently wrote to the police. "This is because they are now working together and covering the others actions."
It seems that in every Sheshatshiu band council election the candidates promise financial accountability, but after every election as many of the voters remain unsatisfied as before. The misdirection of mortgage payments is only one problem, but that misdirection could make it all boil over.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Sheshatshiu Innu Band Council, Auditor General of Canada

Geographic location: Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Audrey Grenier
    May 09, 2013 - 22:31

    This is so maddening! Can citizens even trust any public figure anymore? This article says we can't! The people of this country should rise up and over throw ever corrupt government out on their asses! The time is coming when citizens will have to rethink our whole political system and update and modernize the way we do politics and govern our countries. I hope regular people will try and pay attention to what's going on because before you know it we will be living in a dictatership!