04 July 2006

AG reports leave serious unanswered questions

Auditor General John Noseworthy finished his work on the House of Assembly scandal by filing three reports on two current and one former member of the House who allegedly received overpayments on constituency accounts amounting to more than $766, 000 for Fiscal Years 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005.1

However, the the reports on Wally Anderson, Ed Byrne, Randy Collins and Jim Walsh raise more questions than they answer.

For example, constituency allowances are supposed to include a travel component. This is the explanation for members from remote districts - such as Torngat Mountains - having an allowance of approximately $84,000 per year while members from urban districts have much lower allowances.

The Auditor General reports that Ed Byrne, who represents a constituency in metropolitan St. John's billed five times as much for travel as did Randy Collins, representing western Labrador and Wally Anderson, representing northern Labrador, combined over the whole reported period.

In fact, AG Noseworthy reports Byrne's travel claim for one year - at about $5, 000 - totals as much or more than Anderson's and Collins' combined claims for one year. For three of the four years, the Auditor General reports no House of Assembly travel portion for either Collins or Anderson.

Looking more closely, Byrne's claim for FY 2004 includes a travel allowance of $16,000, while Anderson reportedly claimed no more than 25% of that amount in FY 2005. AG Noseworthy reports no travel for Anderson in FY 2004.

On the face of it, this is extremely unusual. Either Anderson and Collins took minimal travel to their districts in the four fiscal years under review or AG Noseworthy's audit contains serious flaws that might ultimately undermine the credibility of the audits themselves.

Further, the Auditor General has indicated to news media that the requirement to submit original claims with supporting documentation was reinstated by the Internal Economy Commission in April 2004 (the start of FY 2004). However, the reports released Tuesday on Collins and Anderson show these two members were allegedly able to bill over $200,000 more than their report allowance limits in the years after the administrative changes the Auditor general and others claim corrected the problems.

Simply put, the supposed changes to the administrative rules should have prevented $200,000 in alleged overpayments from having occured in the first place. in Collins'' and Anderson's cases, these amounts are almost half the total they are alleged to have received in overpayments.

The Auditor General's latest reports bring the total alleged overpayments to four current and former members to more than $1.0 million. Overpayments for Wally Anderson and Randy Collins are alleged to have been made for the period FY 2002 to FY 2005. Overpayments for Ed Byrne and Jim Walsh are alleged to have occured in FY 2002 and FY 2003. According to the Auditor General, almost 25% of the total overpayments took place after the problems were supposedly fixed. In one of his first comments on the scandal - when Bryne's report was released - AG Noseworthy said on several occasions that changes made by the IEC to House administrative practices in 2004 would prevent overpayments from occurring again.

According to some media reports, the Auditor General shied away from making the bold statements he did earlier on the likelihood of collusion - a criminal offense - as being at the heart of the overpayments.

Criticism of the Auditor General has been mounting since he filed his first report three weeks ago. Some critics have focused on the accusations leveled by the Auditor General - such as collusion - which have not been supported by the skimpy reports made public.

Given the contradictions in the Auditor General's four reports, his work may be done but he has left more unanswered questions in his wake both about the alleged offenses and about the operation of the Auditor General's office.


1 The Auditor general consistently reports fiscal years in a way that is at odds with the way the provincial government notes its fiscal years. For example, for the Fiscal year that begins in April 2002 and ends in March 2003, the provincial government refers to this as Fiscal Year 2002. The Auditor General refers to this as FY 2003.

For the sake of consistency, Bond Papers will use the more common Fiscal Year references.