Thursday, 22 November 2012

Abuse of Public Funds

It seems that the public’s cynicism where politicians are concerned is well justified. In recent past the number of reported abuse of financial entitlements by politicians of every ideology has increased.

IPSA has already commented on the abuse of former Conservative Minister Bev Oda, and Minister of Defence Peter MacKay. One has resigned while the other is still in cabinet. Furthermore we have been informed of possible abuse by Senator Patrick Brazeau and of course the investigation of former Liberal Minister Joe Fontana.

In the case of Mr. Fontana who is currently the Mayor of London, he has been charged by the RCMP with breach of trust. The investigation which includes the possible use of his office expense account to pay for his son’s wedding reception held in 2005. While not proven these charges remain serious and disturbing

As for  Conservative Senator Brazeau, it is reported that he may have abused his position as senator to claim a $20,000 housing allowance. While it may be legitimate because his primary residence is his father’s home in Maniwaki, Quebec, it still leaves a bitter taste in the taxpayer’s mouth.

In Quebec, Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay has resigned amid allegations of corruption. In Laval Mayor Gilles Villancourt has also resigned as a result of similar allegations.  Civil servants in those municipalities are also under investigation for similar infractions. 

In Alberta we have an investigation into political donations to the Progressive Conservatives and also the continuing audit into the expenses of former executives at the Alberta Health Services. These investigations have now uncovered the use of taxpayer dollars to expense tickets to Progressive Conservative fundraisers. This case, however, hits close to the Premier's home as the allegations involve Lynn Redford, the sister of Alberta’s Premier.

While some of these allegations are still under investigation, they show a pattern of complete disregard by politicians or those close to them for taxpayers’ dollars. It seems that once in office they believe that the public purse is theirs rather than the public’s. Rules and regulations are either designed or ignored to allow excesses by people in public office.

It seems that our political leaders no longer take any responsibility for their use of public funds. This type of abuse is getting so common that it has infected the non-profit sector. Executives at the Salvation Army are now under investigation for millions of dollars which have disappeared in the last two years.  Can the pubic have any trust left in the system?

We should not rely on the CBC  to be the watchdog of the public purse. It is important that safeguards are put into place to audit, on a regular basis, the expenses of elected and appointed officials. While FOIP legislation may provide access to information, it should be the governments’ responsibility to make their expenses public without any request. 

Transparency is the only path to accountability. Better still, limited terms for elected officials would be a better solution.

Marcel Latouche

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