Whitehorse Daily Star

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TALKING PROCEDURES – David Irving, Normand Lanthier, Raffaello D’Alessandro and Jessica Schultz are seen left to right during last Friday’s hearing of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

Public accounts’ late tabling called ‘clear non-compliance’

The Yukon’s Department of Finance was sent to the principal’s office last week.

By Mark Page on November 30, 2023

The Yukon’s Department of Finance was sent to the principal’s office last week.

In this case, the principals — there was more than one — had their office set up in the Yukon legislature.

After the department failed to get the public accounts done by this year’s October deadline, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada sent two principal auditors to Whitehorse to make sure the government knows it is not going unnoticed.

“For us, it’s clear non-compliance,” principal auditor Normand Lanthier told the Standing Committee on Public Accounts last Friday.

“We felt that it was significant for Yukoners to know.”

Despite the tardiness, the accounts show the government ended the financial year with a $105-million surplus, which Finance Minister Sandy Silver said in a news release represented “sound management of the territory’s finances.”

The public accounts are an exact accounting of yearly expenses up to March 31. According to the territorial government’s own law, they are supposed to be tabled in the legislature no later than Oct. 31.

Last year, they were tabled Oct. 27, and the year before, Oct. 20.

This year, the accounts were not tabled until Nov. 22.

“This is the third year, that it’s been extremely tight,” said the second principal auditor, David Irving.

“So, this has been a recurring issue where it’s been right up against the deadline.”

Reasons given for the lateness include new accounting procedures and staffing issues, deputy finance minister Jessica Schultz told the committee.

“The fact that the department did not meet the legislative deadline for tabling of the public accounts is testimony to how challenging a year it has been for the department,” she said.

Schulz said the accounts were significantly more difficult this year due to the adoption of five new public sector accounting obligations, which required the government to sift through to find sometimes incomplete historical records.

Irving said they do realize the department has had staffing issues that contributed to slower than normal processing of the accounts.

“We are aware that the hiring retention challenges are an issue in general,” he said.

“And this impacted the Department of Finance, as it decreases efficiency in preparing the resulting financial statements.”

This affected timeliness directly, but also the quality of some of the reporting done by the department.

And this resulted in more back-and-forth to make corrections.

“Staff vacancies and lack of continuity in the financial reporting process have contributed to issues with disclosure deficiencies,” Irving said. “And we have raised this in the past two years.”

Of particular note, the auditors identified that unreliable or incorrect information was being used to predict future expenses, such as poor square footage estimates of buildings by the Yukon Housing Corp.

This can affect cost estimates for future obligations, such as asbestos removal in government buildings.

“From our perspective, it’s essential that sufficient resources are committed to ensure the financial reporting process is improved,” Irving said.

Schultz said the staffing issue is something they are working to address.

“The department is taking steps to bring the process back on schedule and has hired new accounting staff that will assist with this work,” Schultz said.

During the hearing, committee member and Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent queried government comptroller Raffaello D’Alessandro about how much time they were given to get prepared for the new accounting standards.

“The Public Sector Accounting Board usually gives us at least five years to get standards into place,” D’Alessandro said.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were actually given an extra year.

Irving noted as well that the government has known about this for at least five years, and though it had hired experts to help it comply, it did not go far enough in preparing for the changes.

“So, lesson learned,” he said.

The key point Irving and his fellow auditor emphasized is that the government has failed to do its job.

Still, Schultz commended both her department and the Office of the Auditor General for all the hard work done to ensure the public accounts were done correctly.

“This was an enormous task, and they approached the work with diligence, professionalism and care,” she said.

Comments (3)

Up 0 Down 0

David on Dec 4, 2023 at 6:55 pm

'Despite the tardiness, the accounts show the government ended the financial year with a $105-million surplus, which Finance Minister Sandy Silver said in a news release represented “sound management of the territory’s finances.”'

Surplus could have been half a billion dollars if we eliminated most health care services. A surplus isn't an indicator of good governance, Sandy.

Up 72 Down 6

Nope on Nov 30, 2023 at 1:46 pm

Staffing issues are a failure of management Ms Schultz. That ball lies completely in your court. You’ve had YEARS to staff up and train and chose not to.

‘Leadership’ completely throwing staffers under the bus is shameful.

Up 67 Down 10

Al on Nov 30, 2023 at 1:15 pm

The real reason for being late - poor Leadership from Soapy Smith. I don't want to hear excuses - just results and on time. Poor results = poor management. End of story...

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