Speaker: Don’t assume probe at legislature involves fraud

The reason for the suspensions of two senior legislative officers remains unclear, and while Speaker Darryl Plecas has called for full forensic audits of the offices of the clerk and the sergeant-at-arms, he created confusion Wednesday as to whether an investigation centres around fraud.

At a finance and audit committee meeting on Wednesday, Liberal house leader Mary Polak said the committee cannot consider the draft 2019 budget of $83 million until Plecas gives more information on alleged financial mismanagement in the two legislative offices, which he said last week will outrage the public and make them want to “throw up.”

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Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and clerk of the house Craig James were marched out of the building under police escort on Nov. 20 following a unanimous vote by MLAs to place them on administrative leave while a criminal investigation proceeded.

Polak said the 2019 budget the committee is being asked to consider is “tainted” by the uncertainty surrounding the allegations.

“We have the two most senior officers of this legislature on leave. The chair has indicated something horrific is occurring,” Polak said. “It’s been indicated at the meeting last week that there is an indication of the books looking at fraud.”

However, Plecas corrected Polak and pointed out he never said fraud was occurring.

“Looking at books does not necessarily follow that you’re talking about fraud whatsoever,” he said.

At a legislative assembly management committee meeting last week, Plecas, Independent MLA for Abbotsford South, said “very serious concerns” were brought to him early in his tenure as Speaker about activities taking place within the legislative assembly that he believed were criminal in nature.

Plecas and his special adviser Alan Mullen, who was hired in January, passed the information to the RCMP in August. Two special prosecutors were appointed Oct. 1.

Plecas then called for the full forensic audits, but said the issue of how and when to conduct the audits would be dealt with at the next legislative assembly management committee meeting, likely in January. Polak said the public cannot wait that long for answers.

“The chair of the committee [Plecas] said we should be concerned about the finances, yet refuses to make any revelations around those concerns and wants us to consider the budget,” Polak said in an interview after the meeting.

“So if it isn’t fraud, there we end the meeting with further confusion caused by the speaker.”

Mike Farnworth, NDP house leader, accused the B.C. Liberals of attempting to “derail the work of government for their own political gain.”

“It’s clear the B.C. Liberals are more interested in attacking the Speaker than allowing the RCMP and special prosecutors to continue their work unimpeded,” Farnworth said. “We are going to continue to respect the work of the police.”

Polak said the full forensic audits should be conducted by an auditor general of another province and completed as soon as possible.

She said the audits cannot be conducted by B.C. auditor general Carol Bellringer because she has already audited those statements and found no instances of fraud or suspected fraud and would therefore be in a conflict by auditing her own work.

Neither the NDP nor the Greens have committed to an outside forensic audit.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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