In ongoing expense scandal, province comes to defence of IWK board

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Premier Stephen McNeil and Health Minister Randy Delorey came to the defence of the board at the IWK in the wake of an expense scandal that has already claimed its CEO and put its CFO on leave. Marieke Walsh reports on the government’s comments.

Several reviews are underway, the IWK’s Chief Executive Officer has resigned and its Chief Financial Officer is on paid leave, but the provincial cabinet says it has full confidence in the board that oversees Nova Scotia’s children’s hospital.

Premier Stephen McNeil and Health Minister Randy Delorey both came to the defence of the board, even as an independent audit showed it didn’t follow expense protocols when vetting and approving former CEO Tracy Kitch’s bills.

Kitch resigned shortly before the audit was released in August. It showed she billed the hospital $47,273.32 in personal expenses or for expenses that weren’t properly justified. More than half of that has already been repaid, the remaining $22,264.04 is supposed to be repaid by the end of September according to the hospital.

READ MORE: Former CEO of Halifax children’s hospital still owes more than $22,000

From October 2014 to June 2017, the report by Grant Thornton found Kitch billed the hospital for items like personal flights, a Netflix purchase and meals.

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The audit found that CEO expenses and credit card transactions that the board was expected to approve weren’t always submitted on time, and often lacked appropriate documentation to justify the expense.

For example, the audit says “only one of 31 credit card summaries showed documented evidence of CEO approval and Board Chair approval within the timeline required.”

The audit also says there was no evidence that the board approved any of the credit card expenses made in 2017. The board is made up of volunteers and includes Chair Karen Hutt who is the president and CEO of Nova Scotia Power and Past Chair Bob Hanf who is an executive vice president for Emera.

“These are very competent people who have stepped up in a public way,” McNeil said on Thursday. “If there are changes that are required I have all the confidence in them to make those changes.”

Delorey meantime said the board should be judged based on how its handled the expense scandal since it was first reported in June.

“Whenever an organization becomes aware of a situation, how they respond to that situation is what we’re judging their oversight, ” he said. “So again, this board identified, became aware of a concern, they investigated that.”

Thursday was the first time McNeil or Delorey was available to speak to the media about the issue, since Kitch resigned.

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WATCH: IWK Health Centre’s chief financial officer on paid leave after expense scandal

Click to play video 'IWK Health Centre’s chief financial officer on paid leave after expense scandal' IWK Health Centre’s chief financial officer on paid leave after expense scandal
IWK Health Centre’s chief financial officer on paid leave after expense scandal

Expenses were inappropriate but not criminal: McNeil

“Its been pretty clear that some (expenses) were inappropriate,” McNeil said. “I don’t think there was anything criminally wrong.”

He said he bases that opinion on what he’s “seen so far.”

Opposition Leader Jamie Baillie said if McNeil has reason to rule out any criminal behaviour in the expense claims he should share that information.

Based on the public information available, Baillie said he won’t jump to legal conclusions, but he did accuse the government of not “wanting to hold anyone responsible” for the misuse of tax dollars.

NDP Health Critic and MLA Tammy Martin said the Liberals didn’t give any “real answers” about the expense issue.

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“At the end of the day, the minister for that department should know what’s going on,” she said.

The province’s seats on the board haven’t been filled since they were created in 2015. Delorey couldn’t explain why that was the case. A government spokesperson later said the positions were included in “every recruitment campaign since 2015.”

But whether anyone applied for the positions and what happened to those possible applications hasn’t been answered.

Delorey said he doesn’t think the vacancies had any bearing on the board’s ability to oversee the IWK, prompting Martin to question why the seats were created if they aren’t required.

The IWK said it doesn’t have a timeline for when the current reviews will be done. The auditor general is expected to decide whether to launch his own audit of the children’s hospital in October.