After the Liberals proposed plans to audit First Nations Reserves, Conservatives took power and tried to introduce similar legislation. The opposition weeded that out of the Accountability Act, so the federal government has taken a new tack. They are reintroducing such measures within Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).
To further strengthen accountability measures, INAC recently notified funding recipients that it intends to amend 2008-2009 funding agreements to include an audit clause. The addition of this clause will ensure INAC’s right to conduct audits of funding agreements to make certain that contributions are used for intended programs and services. Applied on a risk basis, these will complement the existing requirement that First Nations provide to both the department and their community members annual consolidated financial statements that have been audited by independent and accredited professionals.
Such moves were opposed by the Assembly of First Nations but welcomed by groups like the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. In January they called for just such measures in a 293-page report. "Where Does the Money Go?" examined 6,199 federal grants and contributions in fiscal 2006-07. Even though 30 federal departments and agencies dished out $5.6 billion to 2,054 recipients, disclosure was so poor, it was difficult to tell if the money was spent well or not.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation proved how true this was through Freedom of Information requests for three native bands in Saskatchewan: the
Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, the Onion Lake Cree Nation, and the Lac La Ronge First Nation. (Click the names to see the FOI results.) All three were multi-million dollar winners in the Top 100 Tory Handouts list. But unlike the only other Saskatchewan entry, the RCMP Heritage Museum, documentation to account for those dollars was scant. The crucial pages were censored, leaving pages of regulations and guidelines, and a few skeletal budget numbers.
For example, the request for Onion Lake, a band of 4600, showed precious little, except for summer work proposals for teenagers, which included subsidies for six students to spend twelve weeks to develop a geneological pamphlet and a history book with pictures. For the most part, it was impossible to tell if the money was put to good use.
And THAT is precisely the problem.