Saturday, January 06, 2007

Too Many Unanswered Questions on Goverment Credit Card Incident

It was with great dismay that I read in the recent media accounts about a leaked memo around an inappropriate private purpose credit charge on a government credit card by an E.A. to a former Alberta Cabinet Minister.

I know the former E.A. who is involved. I am disappointed in the obvious lack of judgment he has displayed, and admitted to, regarding this issue. Paying the money back is the minimum response one could expect and at least that was done.

Those actions, to my mind, are beyond inappropriate. They are also a breach of the public’s trust. Not in the lawyer’s sense of a private breach of trust but in the public’s context. We need to be able to trust our governors, and their political staff, to exercise sound judgment in the public interest. An Executive Assistant to a Minister of the Crown is directly involved in our system of governance and we need to be confident and assured that they too are worthy of our trust and they are acting in the public’s interest.

We don’t need agree with everything our governors say and do. But we ought to be able to rest assured they are always acting in ways that THEY believe is in OUR BEST INTEREST and that they can explain how they see their actions serving that end. We can disagree with a policy, an opinion and a judgment call, but the least we can expect is to be fully informed and advised about them at all times.

I am disturbed by some of the alleged facts I have read in the MSM surrounding this incident as well. I feel neither informed nor advised from what I know so far. I have questions about what we know and don’t know and why the government has not been cooperating with a full disclosure of all the records and facts involved.

I don’t like what I see and sense about some of the timing and sequences of events surrounding this incident. While the funds were paid back I wonder how long a time had elapsed after the debt was incurred. When was the incident disclosed to the appropriate departmental authorities and what did they do in response? Why wasn’t the matter immediately turned over to the Auditor General to deal with? Why did he first find out about this from the media, like I did?

Were there immediate remediation, mitigation and disciplinary actions taken or did this all only come to light after the Minister’s loss of the 2004 election and as the E.A. was leaving government? Was this Las Vegas trip a single event or was there a pattern of actions here? And if so what are the details as to timing, amounts and frequency of any pattern? Has this happened before involving other parties, and if so, how was it handled? How big is this problem in our government?

Why has the government refused to turn over the records even when asked to do so by the Privacy Commissioner, who apparently agrees with the media that they ought to be made public? Now the Auditor General is investigating and he is also after the records. I trust that at least he will have full and unfettered access to them and will make them public in a timely way. And I trust he will be able to “follow the money” as well.

All this happened before the PC Party chose Ed Stelmach as our leader and the next Premier of Alberta. Since then Premier Stelmach’s identified five priorities for his government. At the top of the list is to “Govern with Integrity and Transparency.” He has recently demonstrated some of his personal commitment to that priority in dealing decisively with an allegation of a fast track promotion of his son in the Solicitor General department. With this credit card incident, he has just been handed his first real leadership test of this top priority. I expect he will rise to the occasion when he returns from holidays next week.