The B.C. auditor general says there are a number of weaknesses and gaps in the way expenses are handled in the offices of senior staff at the B.C Legislature.
In a report released on Thursday, Carole Bellringer says “We found that travel expenses were frequently made without clear documentation to support the purpose of travel, some expenses
were made without appropriate approval, and purchases of items such as clothing and gifts were made in the absence of policy to guide those transactions.”
The audit was triggered by a scandalous report into Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz that was released by House Speaker Daryl Plecas in January.
The auditor general says 4,700 transactions worth $2.2 million were reviewed during the audit.
It showed that purchasing card usage “violated Legislative Assembly policy”, travel policies resulted in practices “not allowed elsewhere in B.C. public service”, and found expenses “without clear business purpose.”
One example noted was in December 2016 when then Clerk Craig James claimed executive upgrades at a cost of $245 over three days which included breakfast, and also claimed a breakfast per diem, “expense claims reviewed did not provide a rationale for such an upgrade.”
The report also found that the offices of the Speaker, Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms spent more than $18,000 on miscellaneous purchases including gifts both in Canada and overseas, including three jade bear sculptures for $1,428. The Attorney General says there was no policy for the purchase of gifts.
The report makes a number of recommendations aimed at improving expense policies and practices.
Plecas released a statement on Thursday, saying report illustrates that there was a failure of leadership and trust by senior non-elected leadership of the Legislative Assembly,”
“Appropriate and effective polices were not established and policies that were in place were overridden or not applied,” Plecas said.
Plecas said while he hoped there would an audit reaching back to 2016, he accepts and respects the auditor general’s proceeds.
“While not a forensic audit, this report is an important contribution and step forward on the path to reform,” Plecas said.
“The audit report makes nine recommendations to address policy weaknesses and gaps. The Legislative Assembly accepts all recommendations. The Legislative Assembly Management Committee established a work plan on urgent reforms, and progress has already been made by the committee and the acting clerk on many audit recommendations. On my instructions, new policies on employee travel, uniforms and gifts and honoraria have been explicitly extended to my office. The full implementation of all audit report recommendations will be completed in the months ahead.”
An all-party committee led by former Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Beverley McLachlin examined allegations raised last year against former clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz.
In that report released in May, McLachlin concluded James improperly claimed benefits and used legislature property for personal reasons.
New Democrat House Leader Mike Farnworth announced the same day that James had retired with a “non-financial” settlement.
James said in a statement after his departure was announced that he had “been publicly ridiculed and vilified.”
He said his family has been hurt by the accusations.
“In an effort to put an end to that, I have decided to retire, and reach a settlement with the legislative assembly,” his statement said.
McLachlin cleared Lenz of wrongdoing but he remains on paid administrative leave.
Lenz told a news conference after the May report was released that he wanted to be reinstated but was told he was still the subject of a police investigation.
“I am confident there will be no findings of wrongdoing,” he said.
With files from Canadian Press