By Lloyd Dolha
The federal government has announced new auditing measures for all First Nations funding and will be demanding audits of individual funding programs, much to the chagrin of First Nations.
The move prompted the Assembly of First Nations issue a terse statement criticizing the new policy and accused the Conservatives of spreading falsehoods about First Nations.
According to the AFN, the announcement by Indian Affairs Minster Chuck Strahl “plays on the false impression that has been spread about First Nations and accountability. Those who believe the myths might like the idea that ‘something is finally being done,’ but they would be wrong again.”
Under the new policy, all 2008-09 funding transfers to bands and tribal councils will contain a clause allowing the department to audit the money later to determine whether it was well spent.
Strahl said the new measures will allow for greater accountability to all Canadians and to the First Nations people themselves. He also said the audits will be applied “across the board” and are not aimed at any First Nation or tribal council in particular.
The audits will be conducted on a risk-based system, and will seek to determine whether First Nations have appropriate management, financial and administrative controls in place.
The minority Conservative government attempted to pass a similar measure in 2006 as part of its Federal Accountability Act, but the opposition parties removed it.
They now accuse the Tories of sneaking the policy through the back door by adopting it without bringing legislation into the House of Commons.
“It’s part of a pattern to bypass Parliament,” said Liberal MP Anita Neville. “They are playing to their political base that believes aboriginal peoples are not accountable and it’s contrary to everything we’ve heard from the Auditor-General.”
Auditor-General Sheila Fraser has criticized the federal government for overburdening First Nations with paperwork that often wasn’t even read by government officials after it was submitted. One of Fraser’s recent reviews found that at least 168 reports are required each year to account for federal funds from Indian Affairs, Health Canada, Human Resources Development Canada and Canada Mortgage and Housing, the four federal departments which provide the majority of funding to First Nations.
Neville said she is concerned that the federal government is merely adding another layer of paperwork to First Nations. “We know the auditor-general said First Nations are over-audited,” she said. “Is he [Strahl] withdrawing some of the other audits? Is he providing capacity to do increased audits. What more is he auditing? What does he need that he currently isn’t getting?”
First Nations are not required to release information on their audits to the public, only to members of their band. The government says the audits will be more detailed and cover more areas than they do now. But the AFN says First Nations are already heavily audited and the Tories are ignoring more pressing needs on reserves such as housing and education.
Strahl said he believes aboriginal leaders understand that all parts of society are moving towards greater accountability. “What we’re saying is if we’re going to give money, we want to be able to do an audit on it to make sure that it’s serving it’s purpose, that it’s being spent on the programs it was intended,” said the minister.