ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Government stonewalling made it impossible to track how $5 billion in planned infrastructure funding was spent, says Newfoundland and Labrador's acting auditor general.

In a report released Wednesday, Wayne Loveys said five government departments refused to release documents on related projects, claiming they're protected because they would reveal cabinet deliberations.

Loveys said that's an overly broad interpretation of exemptions under provincial access to information laws.

"My view is that I am entitled to unrestricted access to the information required to conduct my work," he wrote in a 526-page report on various departments and provincial financial statements.

The Progressive Conservative government has been rapped by the provincial information commissioner in the past for misusing exemptions to withhold documents.

The provincial Justice Department told Loveys that all documentation "generated by departmental officials, supporting assessments and rankings of proposed infrastructure projects ... ultimately informs cabinet deliberations and decision making as part of the budget process. As a result, this information cannot be released."

Loveys says that kind of sweeping refusal "is of significant concern, not only for this particular review, but for the precedent-setting nature of the refusal."

Loveys goes on to argue that the government's interpretation "is not in keeping with the purposes of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, make public bodies more accountable to the public."

He also described in exasperated detail his attempts to examine the joint federal-provincial regulator for offshore oil activity.

Loveys said he abandoned the review after the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board tried to restrict any public use of data that it deems privileged.

"This has been a lengthy and often frustrating process," he said. "I cannot accept the C-NLOPB's condition that they will provide unrestricted access to what they deem to be privileged information, only if I agree not to report any findings related to that information."

Loveys could not be immediately reached for comment.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale wasn't commenting Wednesday, but Finance Minister Tom Marshall said in a brief statement that the government will carefully review the report.

Marshall did not mention the auditor general's concerns about access to basic spending details.

Opposition parties stepped into that void swinging.

"This is absolutely shocking," NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said of Loveys' assertions regarding the offshore oil regulator.

"I can't expect the government to be critical of the C-NLOPB if ... five departments of government have done the same thing to the auditor general."

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball called for stronger legislation to ensure the auditor general can do a vital job.

"If they're going to constantly hide under this cabinet confidentiality, well, that's not good enough," he said in an interview.

"If this is the way they're going, this will be the most secretive administration that we've ever seen."

Ball said the auditor general's revelations come as the Tory government is refusing to grant extra time that the provincial Public Utilities Board says it needs to complete a promised review of the proposed $6.2-billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador.

Crown energy corporation Nalcor, which is overseeing the project, is also exempt from access to information legislation, Ball said.

"We've got to ask ourselves: What information can the public of Newfoundland and Labrador access?"

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