Friday, November 01, 2013

Efficiency senate-style!

Senate spent $528,842 to recoup $520,000 from four embattled lawmakers

By Jordan Press
Friday, November 1, 2013
Pamela Wallin arrives at the Senate on Parliament Hill Thursday. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

OTTAWA – The Senate spent about $1 for every $1 it found in misspending from four senators.

In all, the Senate spent $528,842 to recoup about $520,000 in expense claims from senators Patrick Brazeau, Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and former Liberal senator Mac Harb, all of whom were found to have run afoul of spending rules by a Senate committee.

The majority of the cost was for an audit of Wallin’s travel expenses, which since 2009 totalled more than $500,000.

In all, Wallin’s audit cost $390,058 — more than double the amount spent to review housing claims for Duffy, Harb and Brazeau. The housing audits cost $138,784.

“We know this is a significant cost,” Senator Gerald Comeau, the most recent chairman of the committee that supervised the audit, said in a press release. “However, once the audit was ordered, we had to allow it to be fully concluded in order to get a fair and consistent reading of the issues involved.”

Senator George Furey, one of the committee executives who oversaw work on all four audits, argued the cost had to “be viewed in the context of the larger issue of public accountability and trust.”

Wallin’s review was sweeping, with auditors from outside firm Deloitte probing claims back to the date of her appointment in January 2009 as well alterations to her electronic Senate calendars.

She has repaid about $150,000, including interest, on travel claims she found were improperly submitted to the Senate, or which auditors and the Senate’s internal economy committee found were not part of her duties as a senator. She has vigorously denied any wrongdoing.

Harb repaid about $231,000 in questionable claims before he retired over the summer, a move that allowed him to retain his parliamentary pension.

Duffy had $90,000 of housing claims repaid, a transaction that is the focus of a police investigation amid allegations of a wide cover-up scheme orchestrated within the Prime Minister’s Office. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, allegedly gave Duffy $90,000 to cover the repayment. The Conservative party paid his legal fees.

Brazeau has denied any wrongdoing and refused to pay the money back. The Senate then decided to claw back his wages to recoup about $49,000 in living expenses.

Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau face the possibility next week of being suspended without pay for a period of up to two years, but under a motion the Senate is to consider, would be allowed to receive health and dental benefits along with life insurance.


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