POLITICS
04/07/2014 02:04 EDT | Updated 06/07/2014 05:59 EDT

Saskatchewan premier orders ministerial travel expenses to be publicly posted

REGINA - Premier Brad Wall is ordering travel expenses for Saskatchewan cabinet ministers and any government staff who accompany them on trips to be made public as more costs came under scrutiny Monday.

Wall says reports for out-of-province travel will be posted semi-annually starting with this fiscal year, so the expenses for the period from April to September will be posted in October.

"Both what the (previous) NDP (government) reported and what we've been reporting so far does not include the cost, for example, of staff on a particular trip. And so we think we can improve what has been a long-standing practice in Saskatchewan by including all of the costs related to a trip on one particular report," Wall said Monday.

The new policy comes after Social Services Minister June Draude came under fire in the legislature for using a car service in London that cost $3,600 over four days. More than $200 was also spent for what was described as a lunch debrief in London with a friend of Draude's from Saskatchewan.

The Opposition NDP got the travel expenses when it filed a freedom-of-information request and made the documents public last week.

The expenses were filed by Rick Mantey, cabinet secretary and the clerk of executive council, who booked the car and accompanied Draude to England and Ghana last June. Draude said she wasn't aware of the costs until last Wednesday when the NDP released the documents detailing the trip.

Wall has said using a car service can make sense if a minister has a lot of meetings, but it shouldn't have been booked in this case.

It was also revealed Monday that Mantey booked the same car service while in London with Finance Minister Ken Krawetz last June, shortly after the Draude trip. Krawetz was meeting with senior bank officials in London.

Like Draude, the finance minister says he wasn't aware of the cost. Krawetz says he was "surprised and shocked" when he saw the amount.

The province was billed for having the car service on standby, but Krawetz says he didn't use it for the first two days of his trip, one of which was a day off from meetings.

"That's why when I saw that, I was very upset and that's why I was into the premier's office immediately and said this is not right. This is something that I need to correct because that should never have been expensed," Krawetz told reporters Monday.

The cost of the two bookings of the car service was $7,016.77.

Draude and Krawetz offered to repay the car cost, but the government says Mantey insisted he should cover the bill. He has also been placed on probation and can't travel or book any more travel.

"I think there have been two demonstrations of poor judgement and there was immediate action on my part and I wouldn't rule out further action," said Wall.

Another expense mistake was also found Monday.

Draude says in reviewing the expenses, she noticed that a receipt claimed as registration fees for a fetal alcohol awareness conference in Ghana was actually a receipt for Ghana travel visas for herself and two others — a family member and a friend who went with her. The expense claim should have been $95 for Draude's visa, so she repaid $190 that was claimed by mistake.

Opposition NDP Leader Cam Broten says it looks like this was a personal trip "where some business things were slotted in to try to make it legit."

"We now have confirmation from the minister that family members, people from Saskatchewan, went with her to the conference," said Broten.

"The question remains, what was the benefit to Saskatchewan for applying to go to a conference in Ghana and spending many days there beyond the three days of the conference and we have not yet had, in my view, a believable explanation about all of that."

Wall says despite the errors showing up, expenses are reviewed.

"There are (flagging mechanisms), although the mechanism didn't work in these cases ... I won't argue with that, but there are those processes in place in executive council. Are they rigid enough? Apparently not," Wall told reporters.

"So are they going to get changed and improved? Yes, they will."