In the wake of a scathing audit of the B.C. legislature’s financial books, the expenses of MLAs have come under fire.
Auditor general John Doyle released the 17-page report on July 26 after thoroughly examining the taxpayer-funded operation that serves as the financial engine behind everything from transcripts and televised debates to security to the salaries of 85 MLAs. And he wasn’t impressed.
He and his team observed more than $1.3 billion in improperly recorded transactions and a $133 million gap between the amount in the legislature’s bank account and the number that appears on financial records.
In the days that followed the audit, the legislative assembly management committee pledged to make things right. In a statement released July 31, the committee said it wants to make improvements that will tighten up accounting procedures and make it easier for the public to see where funds are going.
“All actions will follow the principles of openness, public accountability and transparency and the committee will implement all recommendations made by the auditor general since 2007,” the statement read.
Powell River - Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons said that the move is one he welcomes.
“I don’t have any problem with openness. I should hope most MLAs don’t,” Simons said. “All my receipts are in and all my expenditures are within the rules that have been provided. I think the public has a right to know that they don’t just have to take our word for it, that there’s actually an oversight system that’s strong and appropriately resourced.”
Simons pointed out that while the legislature’s expenses — including those of MLAs — are under fire, the MLAs themselves are not.
“Nobody has accused any MLAs of misspending, which is a good thing,” he said.
In the past, expenses were disclosed once at the end of each fiscal year, in the form of a total amount for each MLA. However, beginning in the fall, travel and other related expenses for every MLA in the province will be subject to public disclosure on-line. From October onward, itemized claims will be posted every three months, and the first disclosure will reach back to April of this year.
Simons also said the committee will be hiring two auditors to assist in compiling the public reports, ensuring the numbers are being properly documented and that the auditor general’s recommendations are implemented.
“I think it’s important that we have confidence in the system that’s set up to regulate what spending is appropriate and make sure there’s someone watching over that,” he said.