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Spending scandal cleanup continues in Nova Scotia with release of draft rules

HALIFAX, N.S. - The Nova Scotia government introduced a bill and draft regulations Friday aimed at cleaning up lax rules and limited oversight that contributed to an embarrassing spending scandal within the provincial legislature.

HALIFAX, N.S. - The Nova Scotia government introduced a bill and draft regulations Friday aimed at cleaning up lax rules and limited oversight that contributed to an embarrassing spending scandal within the provincial legislature.

The proposed changes come three months after the province's auditor general released a bombshell review that revealed inappropriate and excessive spending, including the purchase of custom-made furniture, big-screen TVs, cameras, a model boat, patio furniture, a video game, electric generators and a $738 espresso maker.

So far, one member of the legislature has resigned and the auditor general is conducting a forensic audit that he says could lead to criminal charges.

Premier Darrell Dexter said the new regulations will provide accountability and transparency.

"There was a system of neglect that had been in place for a long, long period of time," he said outside the legislature. "I look at this as an opportunity to fix a system that was broken."

Under the proposed changes, members of the house would be personally liable for any overpayments, and the documentation process would require invoices and proof of payment before expenses are reimbursed.

Support staff hired by legislature members on a temporary basis would also have to be on the payroll of the Speaker's Office to ensure the proper deductions are made.

As well, a policies and procedures manual on expenses would be written.

"It will mean that every expenditure that an MLA makes will be transparent — they will be accountable for every one of them," Dexter said.

"There will be clear rules, approved lists. All of these things will become a matter of direct scrutiny for every member."

The proposed rules say members of the legislature would be required to prepare monthly expense reports and post their expenses online twice a year, a practice adopted in Newfoundland and Labrador after a similar spending scandal led to a revision of the rules.

The Nova Scotia expense records posted online would be maintained for five years.

Many of the rules in the draft regulations provide explicit instructions on proper record keeping and setting up a constituency office. There are also detailed rules on what each member's constituency allowance can be used for.

Under the existing system, the allowances were used to cover a wide variety of expenses with virtually no oversight.

Dexter said the goal is to restore "credibility and faith" in the legislature.

Among other things, the rules will be tightened on the use of public resources for partisan gain. Members of the legislature, for example, won't be able to put their party's logo on their business cards.

And they won't be able to use discretionary funds to directly support local groups, such as minor hockey teams, or make donations to various causes.

"I'll have limited ability to do that," said Dexter, who noted that he was used to having local groups regularly approach his constituency office directly for funding. "We'll just have to explain that to people."

Members can buy memberships in service organizations, but they can't spend more than $500, and they can purchase certificates, cards and plaques to recognize special events and individuals.

Earlier, members decided to eliminate a $1,050 per month allowance that did not require receipts, and they reduced their per diem rate to $38 from $84.

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