September 24th, 2016

The road to accountability? Tighter rules help but only if they are followed


By Lethbridge Herald on December 10, 2014.

Tighter rules will help, but only if they’re followed
The provincial Conservatives are taking steps to bring more accountability to government.
That’s certainly a welcome move, particularly in the wake of the scandals and excesses which marked the Alison Redford era.
Of course, as the Conservatives’ critics point out, the rules are only effective if they are followed. Still, the new rules contained in Bill 2, the Alberta Accountability Act, seem set on providing a greater safeguard against the sorts of spending irregularities which raised the ire of taxpayers in recent years.
For one thing, the new act will change how the provincial government purchases goods and services and solicits sole-source contracts. A report earlier this fall by Auditor General Merwan Saher noted the present patchwork set of sole-source contracting rules was flaunted in delivering close to $540,000 in contracts to the communications company Navigator Ltd. Saher said neither Redford’s office nor the Health Department justified why the contracts couldn’t be put up for competitive bids, and in some cases failed to check whether a contract was good value for the money spent.
Under Bill 2, the new rules raise the level at which the government must solicit bids for a services contract, to $100,000 from $75,000, but lowers the threshold for construction contracts to $50,000 from $100,000.
In addition, the deputy minister will be required to sign off on any contract decision that goes against the rules, such as if there is only one provider, and the reasons will be made public.
Bill 2 will also tackle another issue which raised the hackles of citizens, that of exorbitant severance packages. The new rules will restrict severance packages for political staffers to a maximum six month’s salary in high-end cases, and to no more than three months for anyone who leaves their post after less than a year.
That’s a far cry from the lavish pay and packages which came to light under Redford, whose chief of staff, Farouk Adatia, received an annual salary of $316,000. In addition, nine government staffers walked away with more than $1 million in severance when they left the premier’s office after she stepped down in March.
As Rob Anderson of the Wildrose party admits, the new rules look good on paper, but they’re still only useful if the government adheres to them. That’s where only time will tell if we’ll see real accountability. Rules are in place in all levels of government and bureaucracy, but problems arise when the rules aren’t followed. As always, it boils down to whether government members act with integrity, and unfortunately, that can’t be assured by writing up a set of rules.
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herald.com/opinions/

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