From peicanada.com – Allan Rankin
Politicians who abuse their power should not be allowed to slip away in the night
Premier MacLauchlan has quickly come to the defense of deputy ministers and senior government officials named by Provincial Auditor General Jane MacAdam in the internet e-gaming scandal.
But while our senior government officials certainly deserve the protection of their employer, I believe the premier’s refusal to allow these individuals to appear as sworn witnesses before the Public Accounts Committee of the Legislature, is more about protecting the Liberal Party’s reputation.
The premier speaks smugly about cabinet government, and he is correct that in our system of government it is the executive branch, the Cabinet, that is accountable to the people through the Legislature.
He cannot allow deputy ministers who work for him to appear as committee witnesses on e-gaming because under oath they might spill the beans. Under questioning those deputy ministers might point fingers at their former political masters, and that kind of accountability and truthfulness is simply not in the cards.
For a premier who promised a new way of doing business it’s the same old political business.
Rather than allow a full public examination and disclosure of internet e-gaming, Premier MacLauchlan has lowered the curtain of partisan self interest, and in doing so he’s allowed politicians who have abused their power to just slip away in the night.
The Auditor General’s special report on internet e-gaming is one of the most damning indictments of government in this province I have ever seen. She was harshly critical of senior officials and staff who failed to exercise diligence in disbursing, approving, monitoring, and reporting on loans to the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of PEI.
In one glaring violation of the Financial Administration Act, a $950,000 loan to MCPEI was approved after most of it had already been spent, and a guarantee was provided by then minister, Wes Sheridan, without Executive Council approval.
In another unusual decision, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was concluded between the Department of Innovation and Advanced Learning and a private company, for the development of a financial platform necessary to make the e-gaming scheme work.
These actions reveal a web of patronage, conflict of interest, insider trading and deplorable public administration.
The Auditor General lays primary fault in all of this with senior officials and staff in the various departments and agencies, and there certainly is enough blame to go around. But in focusing on non-elected officials she has neglected to put the hammer down where it belongs.
Few government employees possess the authority to act unilaterally or independently, except for departmental directors and managers who administer programs and services within approved budgets. For everything else, including financial proposals outside approved budgets, and major policy issues, the authority of Treasury Board or Executive Council, or both, must be sought.
Central agency departments like Treasury Board and Executive Council Office are vital to good government. They exist to ensure corporate decisions are consistent with, and adhere to, regulations and statutes, including the requirements of the Financial Administration Act.
While it is true that several departmental deputy ministers were at the heart of the e-gaming decisions, along with a former chief of staff who left government to quarterback the initiative from the hoped obscurity of a downtown law firm, those individuals were hardly in control of the process.
Having been deputy minister of a line department of government, and clerk of Executive Council on two occasions, I can assure you no deputy minister or senior official would ever deliberately violate the Financial Administration Act, or advance a risky off-the-grid initiative like internet e-gaming without being directed to do so by their minister, or by the premier.
It just doesn’t happen.
As deputy minister, I disagreed from time to time with directions given. I had a choice. I could either relent and carry out the minister’s wishes, or if the matter violated the law or raised ethical concerns, I could take it up with my boss, the premier.
Going over a minister’s head can be a career-damaging move, but it is important to remember deputy ministers are appointed by the premier as the president of Executive Council, and they are his employees working on behalf of a minister.
It can be difficult to do the right thing as a deputy minister when the minister, or the premier’s office, is telling you to do something else. Deputies are not ordinary civil servants who enjoy the protection of the Civil Service Act or a union. They are ‘at pleasure’ appointments of the premier and as such have no job security.
Nevertheless, deputy ministers swear oaths of allegiance and service, and are bound to the Crown, and they must obey the laws of the province. Truth to power is essential for the conscientious and honourable deputy minister, and when wrongful acts are knowingly being requested, the answer must be no.
I have only contempt for any deputy level official who uses their position, unethically or illegally, for personal financial gain.
Because I have been there, I can pretty much guess what took place around the e-gaming initiative. It was from the outset a clandestine operation directed by the former Minister of Finance, with the blessing of the premier and his office, who saw a proverbial pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Things had to move fast of course, and the required administrative process, my goodness, that might jeopardize the project.
The e-gaming debacle is a classic example of misgovernment and abuse of power on the part of elected officials.
That is where the twisted line of accountability must be drawn.
I also believe it is a failure of our cabinet system of government, that politicians who abuse their power and commit acts of misgovernment against the people who elected them can escape justice. It is true that some at least face the electorate and are given the boot. But others never face the music. Rather they resign to spend more time with their families, or pursue opportunities in the private sector, or to avoid being held accountable for previous sins and the public wrath that comes with it.
There needs to be some mechanism, some way of bringing former political leaders to account after they have left the stage. If Premier MacLauchlan is unwilling to allow deputy ministers to appear before the Public Accounts Committee on e-gaming, ostensibly because he wishes to protect their character and reputation, then perhaps he will support bringing former Premier Ghiz and his Finance Minister, Mr Sheridan, in front of the same legislative committee to defend their decisions and actions.
Covering up tracks, protecting the culprits, while lecturing Islanders on the principles of cabinet government, hardly adds up to accountability.