Comment: Behind the scenes, checking on government spending

A commentary by a former supervisor in the B.C. Office of the Comptroller General is who now a retired provincial employee.

Re: “People who run the legislature are careless with our money,” editorial, Sept. 26.

I spent 30-plus years working for the provincial government. A good portion of that time was spent as an analyst and then supervisor in the Office of the Comptroller General. The area I worked in reviewed payments, on a random sample basis, from ministries and other government organizations, including the legislative assembly.

Our review of legislative assembly payments was a “courtesy” review only and didn’t include MLA expenses. The legislative assembly was not covered by the Financial Administration Act as ministries were.

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They operated under another act and had their own policy and procedures. As supervisor, I had occasion to call the legislative assembly accounts office about a questionable payment, as I would with any ministry. I was politely reminded that we only did a “courtesy” audit.

The vast majority of payments we reviewed were routine. They involved the everyday business of government, from lease payments for ferries and road construction contract payments to office supplies.

We also reviewed ministers’ travel on a 100 per cent basis. This is where things could get very serious.

Denying a minister or deputy minister a claimed expense could be the equivalent of denying an alcoholic access to a liquor store. I have done both, and the response can be unpredictable and nasty. Depending on the reaction from the minister’s office, the comptroller general might have to get involved.

This could be a career-ending situation for a comptroller general or a minister. I have a lot of respect for the comptroller generals I worked for.

The party in power doesn’t matter. They are equally bad. This is borne out by the actions you describe in your editorial. Somewhere along the line, the public accounts committee became an in camera committee.

Both parties decided the public didn’t have the right to know what they were doing. This was highlighted by John Doyle, the former auditor general. He was, effectively, fired by both parties for doing his job on behalf of taxpayers. MLAs didn’t like being outed in public for their greed and sense of entitlement.

Indeed, even our current premier would not release his expenses to the public for the period Doyle audited.

A big deal was made about how their future expenses would be available to the public, but those aren’t the expense claims that mattered.

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