Friday, January 03, 2014

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Corporal Greg Horton affidavit in hand ..... 

Senators might be interviewed under oath, visited at home in audit of spending

Jordan Press
Thursday, January 2, 2013
Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

OTTAWA — Canada’s auditor general has notified senators that a sweeping probe of their spending may include visits to their homes, and that they could be interviewed under oath in “exceptional circumstances.”
The details are laid out in documents auditor general Michael Ferguson’s office provided to senators in November about the comprehensive audit of Senate expenses. Copies of the documents, including a three-page letter Ferguson wrote to senators, were obtained by Postmedia News.

The documents note the Senate spending audit may include auditors visiting the places senators have declared as their primary residence in order to qualify for a $22,000-a-year housing allowance, and looking at spending outside the current period under review — April 2011 to March 2013 —if auditors have concerns about any senator.

Senators’ staff may be interviewed together or separately from their bosses, and possibly under oath.

“The objective of the audit of the Senate of Canada is to determine whether senators’ expenses and other senators’ transactions have been properly controlled and incurred for parliamentary business with due regard for the use of public funds,” reads part of the summary of the audit plan given to senators.

The documents include a draft summary of the audit plan and copies of slides used in a presentation Ferguson and his office made to senators in late October. That closed-door meeting took place on Parliament Hill as the Senate debated suspending senators Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin without pay over charges of “gross negligence” with their expenses.

The documents suggest Ferguson’s team will probe deeper into the spending habits of senators — including scrutinizing the spot senators tell the Senate they call home — than outside auditors from Deloitte did in 2013.

The Deloitte auditors didn’t note in their final reports that they visited house visits as part of audits of housing claims from Duffy and Brazeau, and former Liberal senator Mac Harb.

RCMP investigators looking into the questionable spending visited Harb’s and Brazeau’s declared primary residences. In court documents, the Mounties have alleged Harb’s primary residence was “uninhabitable,” and that Brazeau claimed his father’s house as his primary residence.

It was in August that the Senate invited Ferguson’s office to conduct a comprehensive audit. Ferguson has been given greater access than his predecessor, Sheila Fraser, who was allowed a limited review of a small sample of expense claims.

This time, Ferguson is reviewing the claims of all senators who have been in the upper chamber over the last two years. However, that time line is flexible: “On an exception basis, we will expand this time period as needed to verify other matters that come to our attention,” the audit summary reads.

The planning phase for the audit is over and teams of auditors have been going into senators’ office poring through spending-related documents. Senators are expected to provide auditors with expense documents within five days of them being requested, and alert Ferguson’s teams if any of the documents have been altered.

Senators were told late last year that auditors would ask for any documents or records they felt they needed to see, including documents subject to solicitor-client privilege. Senators have balked at requests for those documents, and have also questioned auditors’ request for personal banking and credit card information.

“We will request information that we determine is relevant and necessary to enable us to carry out the audit,” Ferguson wrote in a November letter to senators. “We may also access information held by third parties, and auditors may visit the location of senators’ primary residence.

“In addition, we will be conducting interviews with you and your staff (either together or separately). Under certain circumstances, interviews may be conducted under oath, as authorized by the Auditor General Act.”
Ferguson’s final report is expected to publicly list findings for each senator. According to the documents, the final report will be finished by December 2014.

None of the senators under investigation by the RCMP — Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau and Harb — will be included in the audit. Nor will the audit teams scrutinize the expenses of deceased senators, such as Doug Finley, or Joyce Fairbairn, who retired early due to health reasons.

Aside from housing expenses, the spending audit includes the following expense areas:

• Travel — both personal and while on Senate or inter-parliamentary committee business — and hospitality expenses

• Staffing policies, such as hiring and firing of employees, which internal audits have flagged in the past as being problematic

• Office spending, such as purchases of goods and services, including contractors for research. Office budgets in the last fiscal year were $161,200

Wallin landed in hot water for her travel spending, and repaid about $150,000 in questionable claims. Harb and Brazeau were ordered to repay their questionable claims, despite Deloitte auditors saying they couldn’t determine if any rules were broken.

Harb repaid about $231,000 in housing claims going back several years. Brazeau has steadfastly denied wrongdoing, and the Senate has decided to clawback his salary to recoup the $49,000 he owes — an action put on hold while he is suspended without pay.

Duffy’s housing claims have come under RCMP scrutiny, as well as a $90,000 payment from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright. The RCMP have also probed his office spending, including allegations in court documents that Duffy gave $65,000 worth of contracts to an old friend that resulted in little or no work.

None of the allegations has been tested in court, nor have any charges been laid against Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau or Harb.


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