It’s time for a public accounting

The Yukon Public Accounts Committee is responsible for reviewing all reports from the auditor general.

The Yukon Public Accounts Committee is responsible for reviewing all reports from the auditor general.

On February 7, Sheila Fraser issued her audit on the Yukon’s $36.5-million investment in asset-backed commercial paper.

“It is important that the government be certain its investments meet the conditions set out in the act,” she wrote, noting that this particular investment broke the law.

Plenty of questions remain in the aftermath of Fraser’s audit.

The money — about 17 per cent of the government’s total investments as of August 2007, and more than one-third of its stated $90 million, or so, rainy day fund — remains in limbo.

That’s costing the Yukon money.

How much?

Finance Minister Dennis Fentie has not yet said how much money the territory has lost in the debacle.

And citizens don’t know when government officials learned the twin investments were in trouble.

Asset-backed commercial paper guaranteed by a bank is a perfectly legal investment in the Yukon.

But third-party funds — like these — did not debut on the Canadian market until 2002, or later.

And the public doesn’t know who approved the practice of buying these third-party commercial paper investments, which clearly broke the law.

Or when, exactly, that decision was made.

Or who made it.

Officials believed the investments were guaranteed by a bank. They weren’t.

What led officials to presume they were?

Did Yukon Justice officials review the investments?

After all, people making sizable investments usually have lawyers vet the deal before signing. The territory has a sizable legal department, yet, apparently, its expertise was not tapped.

Why?

And if those officials were used, why did they fail to flag the problems?

In the aftermath of Fraser’s audit, Fentie’s department suspended the practice of investing in third-party commercial paper.

Who made that decision?

When?

And why?

That last question comes to mind following Fentie’s statements he has opinions that contradict Fraser’s findings of illegality.

What are they?

Who gave them?

When?

Who asked for them?

When?

These are a few of the unanswered questions stemming from this debacle.

The Public Accounts Committee could get answers.

And it is supposed to.

Yet it has not decided whether it will review this report.

In fact — try to follow this — the committee must first meet to decide if it will meet to review Fraser’s audit.

That meeting to discuss a possible meeting has not happened yet.

Why?

The seven-member committee is comprised of four government members and three opposition members, one of whom — Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell — is the chair and, hence, prevented from stating opinions that might prejudice the post.

Both of the committee’s opposition members — New Democrat John Edzerza and Liberal Don Inverarity — want a review.

Three of the government members —Steve Nordick, Glenn Hart and Marian Horne — have each been called twice on the issue. They have refused to answer media calls.

Presumably they don’t want to discuss the issue.

Patrick Rouble recently called on another matter — to discuss an award he was involved in handing out.

Should the committee review Fraser’s audit? he was asked.

He apparently has no opinion on the matter.

“I want to talk to others to see how to proceed,” he said, referring to his colleagues.

The Public Accounts Committee is tasked with reviewing the auditor’s reports.

It has the ability to get expert testimony from civil servants.

It ensures public money is safeguarded and government spending is scrutinized.

That is, it helps ensure past errors are not repeated.

It should be noted, the committee already met and discussed Fraser’s non-controversial report on the Canada Games.

That report was delivered the same day as the investment audit.

So what, exactly, is the holdup? (RM)

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