03 July 2006

World of the Psychic Auditor General

Consider this situation.

You are meeting with a provincial Auditor General who is interviewing you about some expense claims from three years ago. The AG has already stated publicly he considers the claims are dodgy, although to this point he hasn't named you publicly.

"Explain these, please," pronounces the AG, holding several forms in from of him.

"May I have a look at them?" you ask. "It's been a few years and I'd like to refresh my memory."

"Hooooo no," says AG. "I am not permitted to show you any documents." He clutches them tightly to his chest.

"That's the law. Now I think you fiddled these claims so please explain this one for example." He holds up a sheet plucked from the middle of the pile. It is indistinguishable from a gajillion other such forms.

"Is this an audit or a test of my freakin' psychic ability?"

"Come, come now. Your attitude isn't helping."

Sounds asinine but it isn't much beyond what several members of the House of Assembly have apparently faced in the audits related to the House financial fiasco.

According to Auditor General John Noseworthy, he is not permitted to show people being interviewed any papers related to his investigation. He hasn't referred publicly to any specific section of the Auditor General Act, but based on his comments to the Sunday Telegram we can guess it is section 21.

That provides the AG and his staff must hold their work confidential.

Makes sense. God knows you wouldn't want the Auditor General in front of the news media waving around forms and making all sorts of accusations before he has finished his work.




But here's what s. 21 says:
The auditor general and each person employed in the office or appointed or engaged to assist the auditor general for a limited period of time or in respect of a particular matter under section 28 shall keep confidential all matters that come to his or her knowledge in the course of his or her employment or duties under this Act and shall not communicate those matters to another person, except as may be required in connection with the discharge of his or her responsibilities under this Act or under the Criminal Code. [s. 28 allows for the hiring of temporary staff support.]
Now Auditor General John Noseworthy has some clever lawyers and Noseworthy himself has conducted his fair share of audits. Presumably both the AG and the lawyers can read plain English. This section of the AG Act makes it pretty obvious that an AG is permitted to disclose certain documents as required during the conduct of an audit or investigation. It's a fundamental element of our system that people should have a right to confront any individuals or other evidence being used to accuse them.

Even if there was no suggestion of anyone doing anything wrong, it would simply make common sense to allow an individual being interviewed to have a chance to review certain documents in order to refresh his or her memory. After all, it is an audit, intended to get at the facts of what occured.

It certainly appears AG Noseworthy has either applied a particularly stupid or a particularly self-serving interpretation of his legal powers in this case. Perhaps he should turn to the shrine in his office every once in a while and ask "What would Sheila do?"

She'd probably hand the guy being audited the bloody form, if for no other reason than to ensure the whole thing doesn't get tossed because of questionable audit practices and funky interpretations of plain English.

AG Noseworthy gives us yet another reason for a public inquiry.