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NBSI audit has hit a wall, Lapointe says

Nova Scotia’s auditor general said there is no way to know if properfinancial and quality controls are in place for over $255 million inprovincial business assistance programs.

Nova Scotia’s auditor general said there is no way to know if proper financial and quality controls are in place for over $255 million in provincial business assistance programs.

Auditor general Jacques Lapointe halted his office’s audit into Nova Scotia Business Inc. and the cabinet-run Industrial Expansion Fund after the NDP and the NSBI refused to turn over close to 300 documents relating to the programs.

The government cited confidentiality of cabinet documents and solicitor-client privilege as the reason for withholding the information.

In a report released yesterday, Lapointe slammed government’s decision, denying his audit opinion — the most severe sanction available to his office.

“We do not know what information was withheld, for what reasons, what impact it might have had on our work,” read the report. “This practice constitutes an unwarranted interference with the audit process. It represents poor accountability to the House of Assembly.”

The audit, begun last fall, set out to evaluate the performance the two programs, and assess their controls over loans, payroll rebates, and other development incentives.

On Oct. 30, after both NSBI and the IEF refused to turn over all relevant files to his office, Lapointe wrote to Premier Darrell Dexter to request aid.

According to the report, senior management at the executive council office responded to Lapointe’s request, saying they intended to find the means to provide his office with the information.

Some time later, the executive office told Lapointe he would not be allowed to view the documents he requested.

According to NSBI spokeswoman Sarah Levy, the organization sought out legal advice before responding to Lapointe’s request, but left cabinet decisions up to cabinet.

“Some of the documents were reserved under cabinet privilege and others under solicitor-client privilege. We consulted with legal counsel before making our decision on solicitor-client privilege,” she said.

“Cabinet privilege, on the other hand, belongs to cabinet. We deferred to executive council on that.”

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