02 February 2007

Did Williams fatten charity with allowance?

Since first confronted with the Auditor General's revelation that members of the legislature took a retro-active bonus in 2004, Premier Danny Williams has contended that it didn't apply to him as he does not take a salary.

His language has grown carefully precise but potentially misleading. Williams states that he did not take or receive the money personally.

Many people, including most reporters, have interpreted this to mean that Williams did not take the money full stop. Williams' publicist told the Telegram the Premier did not use the money - not because he takes no salary - but because, as the Telly attributes the remark, Williams "had sufficient constituency funds available.

The latter comment was made before the rest of us realized or were made aware that the House of Assembly actually had already overspent its budget by $350,000. Rather than provide reimbursement on a case by case basis, the House of Assembly's executive committee - controlled by three of Williams' senior ministers - opted to give everyone a retroactive bonus. The additional $2800 applied to the previous fiscal year and was not issued on the basis of receipted expenses.

On Friday, Danny Williams admitted he learned of the payment sometime after it was approved, but did nothing to stop it until public outrage reached its current peak. Williams' parliamentary assistant and one of his ministers tried to justify the retro-cash with no success on Thursday.

The key point to recall is that Williams in fact does collect a salary and routinely avails of allowances and other stipends from the House of Assembly.

The question to be answered is this: Did Danny Williams not receive the bonus at all or did he take and turn it over to the Williams Family Foundation?

The former is what people have assumed. But we have all made grave errors in doing along with what we assume Danny and others have meant when what they said was actually very different.

The latter would be entirely consistent with the Premier's language and with established practice of donating his salary and stipends to his family charity. It would also explain - more than anything else - why he simply kept his mouth shut about the thing. And too, since he had actually taken the money, it would explain the Premier's reluctance to admit when he knew about the bonus and why it took him three years and the ire of voters across the province to realize the allowance was a bad thing.

The Auditor General knows who got the money and who didn't.

Maybe he'd tell us, if someone asked.