Bring it on

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Yes, yes and yes. Here’s the Canadian Press, reporting on federal auditor general Michael Ferguson’s meeting with the Senate’s board of internal economy on Tuesday: “Canada’s federal auditor general says he may have to look at the spending of every senator to ensure no possible misspending is missed. Michael Ferguson said Tuesday night he will decide in the coming weeks on the scope of a sweeping audit of Senate spending where auditors will be able to look at whatever and whomever they like, including each of Canada’s current 102 senators.”

It’s about time.

For years, politicians have fought a rearguard action to try and argue that they should not be included in audits — that, in fact, having a lowly civil servant audit the actions of parliamentarians constituted a breach of the privilege of elected officials.

That was the defence for why the federal auditor general couldn’t review Senate and House of Commons expense claims — even after assemblies in Great Britain, Nova Scotia and this province clearly demonstrated that a panel of political foxes shouldn’t have complete oversight over the chicken farm.

It would give the auditor some kind of hold over the parliamentarians, who, all “honourable” men and women, could be counted on to always do the most honourable of things — except, as has become clear over and over again, they don’t.

Give some people an inch, and they’ll take thousands of dollars in housing allowances and free travel.

But bringing in the auditor general is not just a case of catching crooks. Anyone who’s ever been in private business knows that audits apply to everyone — even the boss — and that, in fact, they’re a bit of a two-way street.

Audits not only find abuse, they also look at financial reporting to see that it’s transparent, clear and defensible. A thorough audit of any division of a business will inevitably find scores of practices that should be changed — not because abuse is taking place, but because it could or, even more commonly, because it could appear to be happening. A policy might be put in place, say, to suggest the highest-ranking employee at a dinner sign the cheque and make an expense claim — to forestall the possibility that a boss with finer tastes could be making a subordinate pick up the tab, and then sign off on that employee’s expense claims.

It might have even helped in the Senate.

Liberal Senator Mac Harb is fighting a finding that he improperly claimed housing allowance, saying he checked regularly to ensure he was doing his claims properly and shouldn’t now be retroactively responsible for paying back money for something he understood the existing rules allowed at the time.

If his complaint is on the up-and-up, he would clearly have benefitted from the rules being more clearly stated — just the kind of thing that a thorough audit would have pointed out.

The bottom line is simple: no one is above the law, and no one’s expenses are above scrutiny — especially when those expenses are paid by taxpayers.

Bring on the auditors — at every level of government.

Organizations: Canadian Press, Senate and House of Commons

Geographic location: Canada, Great Britain, Nova Scotia

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  • Cyril Rogers
    June 13, 2013 - 10:32

    It all comes back to openness ans transparency. Yet again, we are seeing how a lack of oversight and improper auditing is causing huge problems or at least the perception of problems. The Senate is but one example of a wider problem, in that people will manipulate any process for personal gain where the guidelines are vague and open to interpretation. That some degree of honesty and common sense should be injected into any claim-making process goes without saying but ,unfortunately, we seem to be having difficulty distinguishing between personal "entitlement" and what is a genuine and legitimate expenditure. There will always be a need for some degree of oversight when it comes to the expenditure of public money.....but, we need an independent body that is able to function without fear or recrimination, if they are to do their jobs properly.