THE AUDITOR GENERAL’S REPORT – A CHALLENGE FOR OUR PROFESSION
The Auditor General released her Report on the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada on September 30th. This report follows a barrage of negative media reports about wrongdoing in the public sector, including the Groupaction sponsorship and advertising scandal, abuse of hospitality funds and kick-back and conflict-of-interest allegations.
In most of these instances, the checks and balances mandated by the Financial Administration Act have been ignored. These types of systemic abuses impact on the reputation of financial administrators. As professionals, this breakdown in controls is extremely disheartening.
The Auditor General’s Report on the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is available at: www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/domino/reports.nsf/html/20030930ce.html. We encourage our members to read it. As financial management professionals, we have a duty to do the right thing and report wrongdoing. If you find yourself in circumstances that are even remotely similar, please contact the Association immediately.
Our Consistent View
The AG’s findings were neither shocking nor a complete surprise. The report talked of attitudes and incidents that all of us have observed creeping into the public service over many years, in many places. We can understand why the employees of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada felt that telling anyone was a waste of time as it would bring no action and would only threaten their careers and livelihood.
In particular, the report’s sections on classification were hardly a surprise. Moreover, the attitudes observed are definitely not isolated. We have seen jobs purposely misclassified to meet individual circumstance with no regard for the integrity of the financial function. We have seen the continued decline in educational requirements for financial positions. The classification system appears to be no longer based on standards and principles.
Following last year’s AG report, on December 3, 2002, we issued a news release entitled, ‘Financial Managers Welcome Auditor General’s Report’, which can be found on the APSFA website at www.apsfa agffp.com/news/pressag e.html. However, we feel in light of the present situation, it would not be constructive to publicly point out our longstanding concerns over the state of the financial management function and the lack of leadership from the Comptroller General. To do so would only further discredit the Public Service.
As a result of the AG’s report, we must challenge ourselves as an Association and as individual members more than ever before to bring forward new ideas. We must equip ourselves with the solutions to these persistent problems.
The present circumstances actually present our Association and members with a unique opportunity to resolve some of our outstanding grievances. Never before have financial administration issues had such high profile. We must therefore not squander the opportunity to push for lasting change and the betterment of our profession.
APSFA is currently developing a policy paper that will outline some remedies that would go a long way to restoring the integrity of the financial administration system. The fact that the issue of wrongdoing has erupted onto the public agenda now, only months before a new Prime Minister will be sworn in, also works in our favour. Fundamental reform of government structures often only happens when Administrations change.
Our approach to Treasury Board will be to persuade them to recognize our value to the overall financial objectives of government, allow us to be partners in the decision-making process of departments and permit us to perform our jobs in an atmosphere of respect and without the fear of retribution so that events such as those at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner never happen again. We will push for changes to reporting structures government-wide. We are convinced that the timing is right to pursue these changes. And we welcome any comments or suggestions you might have.