11/19/2013 03:30 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST

MPs' expenses need independent oversight, Auditor General says

Auditor General Michael Ferguson is urging that an independent body be created to deal with the issue of MPs' expenses, in order to enhance public confidence in the way expenses are being handled.

"In my opinion, governance can be strengthened by having an independent body that would either advise the board of internal economy or be given the responsibility for all matters related to members' expenses and entitlements," Ferguson told the Commons committee on procedure and House affairs Tuesday.

"Regardless of the role of such a body, it is important that Canadians are confident that its membership is independent and that the members have been chosen in a non-partisan manner."

MPs gave unanimous consent in June for an NDP motion aimed at creating an independent body to oversee House of Commons spending, including MPs' expenses.

The procedure and House affairs committee is now studying what form such an oversight body would take and how it would work with the multi-party board of internal economy committee that is currently responsible for the financial administration of the Commons.

Ferguson said he believes independent oversight is important. His preference would be that it have some sort of authority, but said it could be advisory as well.

"I think at the end of the day, what's important is that whatever change is put in place, is going to be a change that a reasonable, independent person harbouring a certain level of skepticism will believe that the changes have been sufficient, that they can be confident that the rules and expenses are being appropriately monitored."

"We think (this) would be a way to help strengthen Canadians' confidence in the way that members' expenses are being processed," Ferguson said. "So that's really what we think the committee should be considering, whether there are ways to really enhance that confidence."

Ferguson didn't offer details about what he thought such a body would look like, but suggested his own department couldn't take on the responsibility without additional resources.

"I don't think we could absorb the mandate entirely, though, without resources and without it affecting the other work that we do."

Ferguson is set to release his fall report next week, which will include a follow-up audit on internal controls over financial reporting.