Auditor General questions province’s fiscal practices

Controversy is swirling around the Alberta Auditor General’s annual report which was released last week. Opposition parties claim the report shows the government is unfit to manage the province, while the government believes the report demonstrates little more than the higher standard of accountability to which the province holds itself.

The report contains 95 recommendations to the government, 49 of which the Auditor General Peter Valentine considered important enough to warrant an official government response. Of the recommendations that warrant response, 16 are recommendations from previous years that have not been fully implemented.

"[The report shows] this government is chaos, it is ad hoc-ery on display," said interim New Democrat Leader Raj Pannu. "From children’s services to the way billions of dollars are spent in health care to the way the Alberta Racing Corporation has given concessions to divvy up the proceeds from slot machines, the Alberta laws have been broken."

In the annual report, the Auditor General said the Ministry of Gaming did not comply with present legislation with respect to electronic gambling machines. The normal commission to retailers for operating electronic gambling machines is 15 per cent, but the Alberta Racing Corporation collected as much as 33 per cent commission from the machines.

The Alberta Treasury does not think the report is cause for any major concern, though they will thoroughly go through the recommendations.

"The Auditor General also said that we are the most accountable province in Canada," said Treasury spokesperson Tim Seefeldt. "This is a government that puts out quarterly budget updates."

One of the major themes the Auditor General addressed was the government’s practice of giving out one-time funding to different branches of the government. Both opposition parties suggested this method of funding leads to poor financial planning and late financial reporting from regional health authorities.

"Business planning may be little more than a paper exercise or a device to negotiate more money rather than an effective system of accountability," read the report.

David Bray, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Wellness, said the ministry appreciates having faults in the system pointed out but noted nobody has suggested a way to improve them.

"What does the opposition think we should do?" asked Bray. "It would be irresponsible to wait almost an entire year to give out new funding just because it would look better on paper."

Liberal Treasury Critic Howard Sapers is unimpressed with the government’s overall approach to budgeting.

"They are squeezing the budgets so that institutions are within an inch of bankruptcy, then deliver one-time funding," said Sapers. "It’s dangerous to see any of our public institutions, be it hospitals or universities, have such a desperate need for stability in funding."

Seefeldt defended the government’s approach.

"Alberta budgets in a very prudent way," said Seefeldt. "We budget for what we know we can afford. You would be foolish to budget for booms and then run up a huge deficit if the boom does not occur. We have spent the past decade getting out of debt."

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