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Auditor-General Michael Ferguson arrives at a news conference in Ottawa on June 13, 2012. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Auditor-General Michael Ferguson arrives at a news conference in Ottawa on June 13, 2012. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Auditor-General sounds alarm on House and Senate contracts Add to ...

Parliament has wrongfully awarded large contracts that went to unqualified bidders, were signed retroactively or did not include any justification for being untendered, the Auditor-General has found.

After having faced resistance from MPs and senators, the country’s spending watchdog spent months poring over the books of the House of Commons and the Senate, finding a series of administrative errors.

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However, Auditor-General Michael Ferguson did not study the effectiveness of the spending safeguards in Parliament, despite a series of scandals involving public funds in Ottawa and in legislative assemblies elsewhere in Canada and around the world.

In the Senate, the unelected legislators are bound by an “honour system” in which they simply have to attest that their expenses are related to their parliamentary functions.

“What’s preventing me from making an opinion on the rules is because we didn’t do the work to look at the rules, to assess whether they were satisfactory or not,” Mr. Ferguson said at a news conference on Wednesday. “That’s not what the audit was about, that’s not what the audit was intended to be.”

The report found a series of problems in contracts awarded by the House. In one case, the House awarded a $600,000 deal for professional services to a company that did not meet its mandatory requirements.

“Instead of setting aside the bid or cancelling the process and retendering the requirement, the Directorate retained and evaluated the bid, and the vendor was awarded the contract,” Mr. Ferguson said in the report.

After being informed of the situation, the House was forced to go back to tenders on the deal, Mr. Ferguson explained at the news conference.

Overall, the report by the Auditor-General found that “41 of 59 procurements by the Administration [of the House] which we examined were not in compliance with its own policy and processes.”

“The deficiencies we found included, for example, contracts that were not signed or were signed retroactively, and files that were missing documentation such as a statement of work or the rationale for not choosing a competitive process,” the report said.

The audits did not try to determine whether taxpayers are getting value-for-money from Parliament, or whether MPs and senators appropriately spent their spending allowances. Auditors found no justification for expenses by senators for travel to Washington, for living expenses and purchases at the parliamentary boutique.

“It is difficult for the Administration [of the Senate] to clearly conclude that expenses are appropriate,” the report said. “Senators operate on the honour principle, with their signatures attesting that the expenditures have been incurred in carrying out the performance of parliamentary functions.”

Democracy Watch lambasted the lack of oversight over the expenses of the country’s legislators.

“The federal Auditor-General’s report on House of Commons and Senate spending is disappointing because it does not include audits of even a representative sample of MPs’ or senators’ expenses, let alone all of them,” Democracy Watch co-ordinator Tyler Sommers said. “The federal Auditor-General is simply failing to fulfill his legal duties by continuing to fail to audit the $500-million spent by MPs annually.”

Still, Mr. Ferguson said nothing in the audit raised “cause for concern,” stating that the mistakes that were identified were largely administrative.

“On the whole, we found no major weaknesses in the administrations of the Senate or the House of Commons,” Mr. Ferguson said.

He added that both chambers agreed to implement his recommendations for improved administrative measures.

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