20 September 2007

Beth Marshall: Donations by MHAs "are appropriate"

In an interview with the St. John's Morning Show, former Auditor General Beth Marshall blew away whatever credibility she had as a fearless campaigner for accountability of public spending.

Marshall said she had no problem with members of the legislature handing out donations from constituency funds in manner essentially in violation of the system of accountability she used to espouse. In many cases, what the legislature called donations went to purposes for which there were already established government programs.

Among her most amazing comments:
"The Auditor General [John Noseworthy] has no basis to base his opinion on that those expenditures were inappropriate."
The AG based his views on the report by Chief Justice Green and his scathing indictment of the practice of donations. When pressed by Jeff Gilhooley on whether or not the donations were inappropriate, given that they came from an allowance that was never intended to include donations, Marshall was unequivocal: "They are appropriate."

Marshall defended her view on the basis that "discretionary funds" exist throughout government. That's an interesting argument for Marshall to make. As she should know, Green documents the original Morgan Commission recommendation in 1989 on allowances and the manner in which discretionary funds were restricted until that specific type of fund was eliminated by Marshall and her colleagues on the House management committee in 2004.

Had donations in fact been treated like discretionary funds, then members would have been limited to a maximum of $4800 per year. But Marshall knows that donations were not treated like discretionary funds. In the period after Marshall and her colleagues eliminated discretionary funds - and as the AG documented - gifting by Marshall and her colleagues increased compared to previous years. Marshall's colleague the deputy Premier handed out one gift of $5,000 in a single go in 2007.

In another part of the interview, Marshall said that when she was elected, she was provided with a set of rules to be followed. That's blatantly contrary to the line taken by most members that there were in fact no rules and hence abuses and oversights occurred.