Auditor general denied expense access

Parliament’s secretive, all-party management board has slammed the door on Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s request to examine close to half a billion dollars of MPs’ expenses.

OTTAWA — Parliament’s secretive, all-party management board has slammed the door on Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s request to examine close to half a billion dollars of MPs’ expenses.

The Board of Internal Economy issued a rare news release Thursday stating the proposed audit “would go beyond the scope of the auditor general’s mandate.”

Fraser — best known to Canadians as the bean counter who blew the lid off the Liberal sponsorship scandal in 2004 — asked almost a full year ago if her office could conduct a “performance audit” on $533 million of annual spending by both the House of Commons and Senate.

Recent examinations of politicians’ spending habits in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Britain have exposed some sensational examples of waste and greed.

But Fraser has maintained she is not on a “witch hunt” and that her audits are “there to help improve management processes.”

The board — which includes MPs from all four parties, with Commons Speaker Peter Milliken as chairman — declined. The board, which deliberates in secret, stated there are already sufficient “control mechanisms” in place.

“All past audits have resulted in an unqualified audit opinion, which is the optimal situation,” said the release.

Access-to-information laws don’t apply to MP budgets and their expenses are subject to financial audits that don’t show exactly where the money goes.

MPs’ books haven’t been fully audited since 1991, and even that exercise by auditor general Denis Desautels did not do what Fraser proposed.

“There is a financial audit that is done of the financial statements of the House of Commons,” Fraser told reporters last month at her most recent quarterly release of audits.

“I have absolutely no concerns about that audit and the quality of that audit. It’s done by a very reputable firm (KPMG).

“But a performance audit, like the audits we’re tabling today, is very different from a financial audit. And we’ll go in and look at the systems and practices much more than a financial audit would.”

Outside experts on the management of Canada’s parliament say MP expense abuses began getting cleaned up in the early 1980s and that the current refusal to allow a full audit is self-defeating, as it can only fan public suspicions of irregularities.

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