Monday, May 17, 2010

Improper backdating of expenses in the Privy Council Office

This report should prompt a lot of questions and appropriate investigation (see below): "Feds backdated Mulroney-Schreiber bills."
The prime minister's own department fiddled with the books at least twice to pay some of the massive legal bills run up by the inquiry into Brian Mulroney's dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber.

A newly released audit has found officials in the Privy Council Office improperly "backdated" approvals for legal expenses that ran over budget at the Oliphant Commission.

"The legal counsel did not provide advance notice ... that additional time would be needed until the legal counsel had already exceeded the original allotted time for preparation of hearings," says the internal report.

Officials then date-stamped their after-the-fact approval back to the date the legal fees actually ran over budget. The same thing happened again, and again approval was improperly backdated.

The audit, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, does not identify who ran over budget or by how much. (emphasis added)
What does the Prime Minister have to say about the backdating of expenses in his department? Has anything been done about this inappropriate activity that was identified in this audit? And if not, why not? Who did this improper backdating? Who approved of it? Why was it permitted to occur multiple times? Whose legal expenses were these?
A Privy Council Office spokeswoman says Mulroney, whose legal expenses are paid separately from the commission's own accounts because he is a former public office holder, has already been reimbursed $1.6 million by the government for his legal tab to date.

Mulroney has been represented at the inquiry by a team of six lawyers, including lead counsel Guy Pratte.

The only other participant to have had his legal bills paid by the commission is Fred Doucet, a lobbyist and former aide to Mulroney. Doucet successfully argued in 2008 that he had insufficient income to afford a lawyer.
How and why did this happen in the Privy Council Office? This is the highest office in the land, the Privy Council Office is the Prime Minister's bureaucracy. It sends an incredibly poor message to Canadians about ethics, the ethics at the very top of the government.

If the Prime Minister's department has engaged in such behaviour, there should be public accountability. It is precisely because of the message it's sending and what appears to be, on its face, impropriety, that it needs to be investigated and carried out by independent eyes.