Advanced Education ministry told to 'pull your socks up' on expense claims

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Advanced Education ministry told to 'pull your socks up' on expense claims

Advanced Education ministry told to 'pull your socks up' on expense claims

Alberta Auditor General Merwan Saher wants the ministry of advanced education to improve how it reviews employee expense claims.

An audit outlined in Saher's May report found the system used by the ministry was ineffective in ensuring expenses incurred by the minister and department staff were a proper use of funds.

Two out-of-province trips by former minister Lori Sigurdson did not have the required pre-approvals.

Several meal expenses lacked documentation to explain how they were related to government business.

Some caucus costs that should have been charged to the legislative assembly were covered by the ministry due to a coding error.

The audit looked at the expense review systems for seven ministries. Culture and Tourism, Education and Energy were found to have good practices.

Saher suggested Advanced Education paled in comparison.

"You need to sort of pull your socks up," he said on a conference call with reporters. "There are other departments who manage to do it satisfactorily. In fact, we've given them credit for good practices."

Saher said the amounts involved were not significant. The audit did not uncover any improper expenses.

Marlin Schmidt, the current minister of advanced education, said he was disappointed to hear the auditor general found problems in his department. He said steps have been taken to remedy the situation. 

"Our senior financial officer and our finance department have met with the auditor general to look at ways we can improve the expenses so that they're properly coded and all the documentation is there and all of the auditor general's expectations are met going forward," he said. 

 A follow-up audit found Treasury Board now has responsibility to review expenses incurred by the premier and ministers. A lack of oversight on travel expenses and use of government planes by former premier Alison Redford and her staff was flagged by the auditor general in 2014.

Other findings in the May report:

- The department of environment and parks still hasn't obtained assurances the data tracked in the Alberta Emissions Offset Registry is accurate. The registry is used by companies that buy emissions-offset credits under the specified gas emitters regulation. The auditor general told the ministry to fix the problem in 2009. Nothing has been done since then. The report notes the department hasn't enforced a provision for data assurance in a contract signed with the registry operator in 2014. "Invalid offsets that go undetected can result in loss of revenue to the department and undermine the credibility of the systems to manage the regulation," the report says. 

- The department of justice needs to figure out what services it can afford to offer under the legal aid program. The program, which gives low-income Albertans access to lawyers, needed supplemental funding three times in the last five years because it went over budget.