More than $600 million belonging to Alberta’s most vulnerable people continues to risk mismanagement at the hands of the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee.
That’s according to the latest report by auditor general Merwan Saher, released Wednesday, which says the office continues to see a high number of errors in administering client accounts as it grapples to fix the weak safeguards and risky fund management identified in 2013.
In 2013, Saher released a scathing report detailing an office where bureaucrats managing millions in assets for disabled and elderly Albertans were so poorly monitored that a major fraud went undetected for more than a decade.
In the four years since, Saher’s office expected to see some move towards effective internal controls to manage client trusts.
It was disappointed.
The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee was shuffled under the justice department umbrella in January this year and Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley agrees with Saher’s recommendations.
Her department has already started reviewing Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee files, has $2.5 million earmarked for a computer system upgrade to help with record management, and will look to the ministry’s other functions to develop better oversight.
“We do need to move forward and, given the amount of time that has passed already, we need to move forward quickly,” Ganley told Postmedia Wednesday.
Saher’s last report, released in October, slammed the province’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program, which led to sweeping changes earlier this year.
Ganley said Wednesday’s criticisms of the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee create “an incredibly worrying trend” for services that help Alberta’s most vulnerable.
“These are the people we should be ensuring we’re taking the most care of,” she said.
Legal aid unsustainable
Meanwhile, Alberta’s legal aid program risks being unsustainable if it doesn’t figure out the type and scope of services it can afford, Saher’s report said.
Provincial funding for the program has doubled since 2005, but Saher said cost savings identified of late won’t be enough to halt the need for stop-gap funding in 2017-18.
Unless the province continues to increase financial support, Saher said, it may again need to internally reallocate cash from other departmental programs to meet legal aid funding pressures.
Sub-par ministry expense processes
Saher also examined the premier’s office and a handful of other ministries to make sure travel and expense claims comply with government policy, and found the Advanced Education ministry needs to pull up its socks.
He found insufficient documentation, out-of-province travel claims lacking pre-approval, and incorrect expense coding.
On a positive note, Saher’s report praised a new contracting policy for social housing and the work some post-secondary institutions have done to improve oversight.