Spending scrutiny overdue – and inadequate
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 08, 2012 06:00 am
Alberta politicians and bureaucrats will soon be bound by a policy requiring them to disclose their spending for public scrutiny – a step that is long overdue.
As of Oct. 1, Alberta taxpayers will have access to the expense reports from MLAs, cabinet ministers and senior staff. These reports will be posted online every two months starting in December.
In addition, taxpayers will no longer be on the hook for lavish government spending on alcohol, business class travel or fancy feasts. MLAs and public servants are asked to fly economy and take taxis unless other arrangement have been previously approved, and are no longer permitted to claim alcoholic beverages on their expense reports. This all comes after a series of red flags was raised over fiscal responsibility and transparency of government – two pillars in Premier Alison Redford’s election campaign.
Alas, it seems that little has been done in either, as shown in the recent first-quarter fiscal update and the well-publicized health superboard scandal.
The first-quarter fiscal update revealed a projected $2.3- to $3-billion deficit, largely the result of less than stellar commodity prices. While the province is faced with a looming deficit, politicians and bureaucrats continue to spend.
Perhaps the most spectacular example of that was the opulent spending by Alberta Health Services’ chief financial officer Allaudin Merali, who claimed close to $350,000 during his three-and-a-half year stint with Capital Health. He stepped down from his AHS role in August, as did AHS board member Sheila Weatherill, who approved many of Merali’s expenses.
It is important to note that boards, agencies and commissions – like Alberta Health Services – are not bound by the policy, although Redford said she expects them to follow it.
Although the government has made a wise decision in deciding to publish these expense reports, it is a step that warrants only tepid praise.
It is simply a government duty to be accountable to the people it represents. Showing Albertans where their hard-earned money is being directed is the fulfilment of that duty. After all, the money being spent by politicians and bureaucrats is coming out of the pockets of average taxpayers.
The policy is certainly a step in the right direction for the province, but it has flaws that need to be addressed.
Critics have pointed to a rather significant loophole that could have some public servants exempt from the policy – it’s as simple as applying to the Treasury Board for exclusion from part or all of the policy. There is no word whether the exclusions will be shared publicly. And, there’s no indication what will happen to those who contravene the dictum.
Prior to announcing the policy, the government should have had answers to these rather obvious questions. Instead, it appears as if the announcement is an attempt to make it look like government is taking a harsh stand against those who choose to misuse taxpayer funds.
Wildrose finance critic Rob Anderson noted that disclosure should start with the premier herself, who recently travelled to Asia and London for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Albertans footed an $84,000 bill for the latter trip.
He vows that the Wildrose will be watching as this policy rolls out. That’s something all taxpayers should do.