08/01/2012 11:56 EDT | Updated 10/01/2012 05:12 EDT

B.C. MLAs promise to reform expense account records

An all-party committee of B.C. MLAs that is responsible for overseeing spending at the legislature is promising a major overhaul will put its financial books in order within the next six months.

The promise comes after B.C. Auditor General John Doyle delivered a scathing report last week that said the committee and its comptroller were not producing any useful financial statements or maintaining even the most basic accounting records.

The all-party Legislative Assembly Management Committee is supposed to oversee how money is spent to run the legislature, including MLA's expense accounts.

After meeting behind closed doors on Tuesday afternoon, the members of the committee announced two experts from the auditor general's office and the Ministry of Finance will be brought in to ensure all of the auditor general's recommendations are implemented.

In a statement released Tuesday night, the committee said it wants to improve its accounting procedures.

"All actions will follow the principles of openness, public accountability and transparency, and the committee will implement all recommendations made by the auditor general since 2007," it said.

After insisting MLAs have been properly submitting expense receipts, the statement said it will soon be easier for the public to see who is spending money and on what.

"The committee has full confidence that all MLAs have submitted receipts for their expenses as required. Annual expenses are released in the Public Accounts every July," said the statement.

"However, to provide more openness to British Columbians, beginning in October, quarterly MLA expenses will be posted online starting with the expenses for the first two quarters of this current fiscal year."

The committee predicts it will take six months to put the financial records in order.

MLAs promise openness and accountability

Both NDP and Liberal members of the management committee describe the changes they are putting in place as "huge," "dramatic" and "a significant shift."

Committee member Shane Simpson says his colleagues agree restoring public confidence as quickly as possible is a priority.

"People will be able to see and feel they'll get the accountability they expect," said Simpson.

Committee member John Horgan said the level of cooperation among the all-party committee was key to moving forward.

"In order for the place to function as a workplace — not just for us as politicians, but all the staff that are here, from the restaurant to security to maintenance — we need to have a functioning committee overseeing that and we have taken, in my view, enormous steps forward today in achieving that."

The committee also promises to open its closed meeting to the public in the future in order to help restore confidence in the system.

MLAs surprised by concerns

Speaker of the House Bill Barisoff is directly responsible for the $63-million budget for MLA salaries and operational expenses for the legislature.

Earlier this week, Barisoff took responsibility for the poor bookkeeping but brushed aside calls for his resignation, saying most members of the legislature were surprised by the scathing review.

However Doyle said most of the problems could have been avoided if the Speaker's office had implemented the recommendations his office made about accounting in 2007.

Doyle said his audit of the past three fiscal years found the Speaker’s office still does not produce financial statements, does not demand receipts for MLAs' expense accounts and does not properly reconcile its bank balances.