Audit finds $1.3M in questionable expenses at First Nation health centre

Unwarranted travel allowances, pay for questionable extra duties and speeding tickets are among the items covered by funding for a health centre on Sagkeeng First Nation, according to a forensic report obtained by CBC News.

It found $1.37 million was paid to employees in 2016 and 2017 and some of it with “no rationale or support.”

“These arbitrary payments to themselves and employees misrepresented the financial condition of the organization,” says the report, dated April 13, 2018.

Concerns were raised after the First Nation’s council reviewed the employees’ salaries and found they were being provided cheques for various expenses “in lieu of overtime, extra duties, advances and honorariums.”

MNP, a chartered accountancy and business advisory firm, was hired in October 2017 to assess these concerns and found the director of health for the centre “inappropriately directed the use of health centre funds to the benefit of employees.”

Sagkeeng Health Centre is operated by the First Nation and receives block funding from the federal government through Indigenous Services Canada. The centre offers mental health counselling, pre- and post-natal programs, immunizations, suicide crisis response, addictions counselling, home care service and other services.

A spokesperson for Indigenous Services said the department has contacted the chief and council of Sagkeeng to obtain a copy of the report.

“It [the department] will work with the community to determine next steps on its findings,” he said in a statement.

‘No rationalization or substantiation’

It is unclear what specific measures were taken following the report, other than the dismissal of the health centre’s board of directors by council, which then assumed responsibilities as the new board, the MNP report says.  

Sagkeeng’s chief and council did not respond to a request for comment. The health centre’s new director of health, Adam Sanderson, said he could not talk without the permission of the council.

The report says the largest expenditures included expense reimbursements, miscellaneous travel, extra duties, advances, travel allowance and honorariums.

It found the the majority of staff (37 out of 56 employees) were paid for miscellaneous travel expenses and also given a monthly travel allowance up to $400 per month when “there is no rationalization or substantiation for the payment of a travel allowance for employees.”

It also found four instances when cheques, totalling $1,060.25, were issued to the Minister of Finance for the payment of photo radar and speeding tickets. In one case, the description said it was a speeding ticket for the director of health.

The report recommends that a full review of the policies and procedures of the centre be done and further investigation of the “possible misappropriation of funds using the corporate credit card.”

It also recommended a review related to spending on things such as fuel purchases and expense reimbursement “in order to ensure that the spending around these items is both appropriate and has been properly approved.”

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