29 September 2007

What did Frank Moores call it?

From the front page of the Saturday Telegram, not available online but brought to you courtesy of the 10,000 monkeys that are kept chained to their IBM Selectrics banging away at transcribing stuff, a tale of the continued practice of having government members of the legislature handing out cheques for public money.

According to the Auditor General's report, Sheila Osborne was in the Top Ten public money givers, as a percentage of allowance. Osborne came in at eighth place, with 26% of her allowance as gifts. Osborne's son Tom - the province's justice minister - came in ahead of his mom, in sixth place. Tom's uncle, Bob Ridgley - Sheila's brother - came in fourth, handing out more than 38% of his constituency allowance as gifts.

As reported here earlier, the Tories have managed to find a way of doling out public money even though Chief Justice Green condemned the practice in no uncertain terms.

Tory MHAs delivering cheques for government

Handover of money appears to conflict with Green Report

Rob Antle; Terry Roberts

Two Tory MHAs recently delivered cheques to good causes on behalf of the government, months after the release of the Green Report recommended against the practice.

Chief Justice Derek Green concluded that MHAs "should be prohibited from making donations and other gratuitous payments to or on behalf of individuals, charities, community groups or agencies using their constituency allowance or other public money."

Those provisions of the Green Report were quietly delayed by the legislature until after the Oct. 9 election, although the governing Conservatives pledged to immediately abide by Green's recommendations.

In early September, St. John's West MHA Sheila Osborne personally delivered two $500 cheques to the principal of St. Matthew's elementary school in Cowan Heights.

She said the cheques came from two provincial government departments - Education, and Tourism, Culture and Recreation.

Osborne said the first $500 cheque came from a recreational grant program she has accessed in the past.

Tourism, Culture and Recreation officials confirmed the program is available to every district in the province, and seeks the input of local MHAs to prioritize spending.

Osborne said the second $500 cheque came about through the initiative of the school principal, who asked the Department of Education for some cash to help fund St. Matthew's "healthy living" campaign.

But instead of sending the money to the school, education officials sent it to Osborne, the MHA said.

The cheques came in around mid-July. She delivered them to the principal in early September, after classes had resumed for the year.

Asked whether that's allowed under the Green Report's recommendations, Osborne said, "Gosh, I don't know. It came over to my office for me to bring up, and I just brought it up and passed it in. There was no fanfare or anything."

She said she had "no idea" why the department would send her the cheque, instead of forwarding it directly to the school.

Education Minister Joan Burke said late Friday it's not unusual for the department to send such grants to schools through the MHA, when the member has been involved in the process.

Earlier this summer, Tory Exploits MHA Clayton Forsey turned over a $500 cheque to a Bay D'Espoir cancer benefit concert on behalf of the provincial Health Department.

Bay D'Espoir is in the district of Fortune Bay-Cape La Hune, represented by a Liberal.

Questioned about the matter last month by The Telegram, Forsey said he was asked to make the donation on behalf of Health Minister Ross Wiseman. But unlike Osborne, Forsey made the donation at a public event.

The Coaster, the community newspaper serving the Coast of Bays region, initially reported Forsey made the donation on behalf of Premier Danny Williams. A week later, the paper ran a correction. Forsey acknowledged he requested the clarification.

At the time, a Health official said it's not unusual for the department to make donations to such causes, and said it's also common for the minister or a government MHA to pass over the money.