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B.C. auditor general finds ‘weaknesses and gaps’ in legislature expense policies

WATCH: A new report from B.C.'s auditor general has found problems with the rules governing spending by the legislature Speaker, the clerk and the sergeant-at-arms. Richard Zussman reports.

B.C,’s auditor general has found “weaknesses and gaps” in how expenses are dealt with for the offices of the Speaker, clerk and sergeant-at-arms at the legislature.

Carol Bellringer says in a report released Thursday she found some policies were in place, but they were not always followed.

“We found that there was no specific travel policy for staff and officers of the Legislative Assembly,” Bellringer said. “The practices we observed in this area would not have been allowed in ministries.”

READ MORE: B.C. legislature clerk Craig James retires, found to have committed ‘administrative misconduct’

Bellringer was asked to look into the three offices by the Legislative Assembly Management Committee as part of the investigation into misspending at the B.C. legislature.

Clerk Craig James retired after an independent investigation by former Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Beverly McLachlin found he committed administrative misconduct related to misspending at the legislature.

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Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz was cleared of wrongdoing by McLachlin but is still on administrative leave. The RCMP are investigating allegations against Lenz and there is also a separate Police Act investigation.

In the audit released on Thursday, Bellringer found travel expenses were frequently made without clear documentation to support the purpose of travel. The report also details some expenses were made without appropriate approval or a clear business purpose, and purchases of items — such as clothing and gifts — were made in the absence of policy to guide those transactions.

WATCH (aired February 7, 2019): Clerk and sergeant-at-arm of the legislature respond to Plecas report

Clerk and sergeant-at-arm of the legislature respond to Plecas report
Clerk and sergeant-at-arm of the legislature respond to Plecas report

Bellringer says she did not find anything that merits additional investigation or merits a deeper forensic audit.

“If we had found something that needed to be looked at in a deeper broad way, we would have,” Bellringer said. “We don’t think there is anything needed for further investigation.”

The auditor general’s office will conduct additional audits and will focus on fixed assets, compensation and benefits, governance, and a further look at purchasing card administration and usage across the Legislative Assembly.

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Bombshell findings in B.C. legislature spending scandal report
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Bellringer found the Legislative Assembly did have a policy in place for the use of purchasing cards but there were a number of instances where purchasing card practices did not follow the stated policy.

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The Legislative Assembly has already accepted the nine recommendations put forward in the report.

The recommendations include a comprehensive travel policy for the legislature, with requirements for prior approvals and documenting the business purpose of the travel.

In addition, the policy will ensure appropriate expense authorization and reviews are in place, including approval by a supervisor whenever possible and additional safeguards when not.

READ MORE: B.C. Speaker’s office under fire for spending $13,000 on 10-city tour to discuss security

“There have been a lot of people who have dropped the ball here,” Bellringer said.

The auditor general also found there is no effective mechanism for reporting policy violations directly to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC).

“LAMC needs to ensure the administration of the Legislative Assembly sets the bar for controlling, overseeing and ensuring the efficient and effective use of public resources in an organized fashion,” Bellringer said.

The report also found spending at the Office of the Speaker has gone up more than three times since Speaker Darryl Plecas took the job.

In 2017-18, the Speaker’s office filed $19,188 in travel expenses. Those expenses ballooned to $60,947 the following year.

Bellringer did not have any explanation for why the expenses have been bloated.

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In a brief encounter with media, Plecas said more details would ‘be released tomorrow’ on his expenses. The Speaker’s office then sent a statement to the media about the Auditor General’s report.

“While I was hoping that a forensic audit would be completed, and that the audit would reach back to 2011 rather than only 2016, I accept and respect that the Auditor General proceeds according to her own mandate and authority,” Plecas said.

“While not a forensic audit, this report is an important contribution and step forward on the path to reform.”