Continued financial reporting delays from public trustee office 'unacceptable,' says P.E.I. Opposition

More than two years after P.E.I.'s auditor general raised serious concerns about financial oversight within the office of the province's public trustee, that office continues to miss legislated deadlines for submitting financial information to the province — a situation the Official Opposition calls "unacceptable."

The public trustee manages close to $8 million in assets on behalf of Islanders deemed incapable of making their own financial decisions. In her 2017 report, auditor general Jane MacAdam found the office wasn't doing an adequate job tracking and protecting those assets.

Government told CBC the public trustee's office has made "significant progress" toward meeting financial reporting requirements since the auditor general raised concerns two years ago.

But Opposition finance critic Michele Beaton said she has "concerns whenever any of the offices don't meet the timeline set out in the [Financial Administration] Act." 

"Especially for this department or for this office because we have to remember that this office is the advocate for P.E.I.'s most vulnerable people. These are people that truly have no one else to speak for them." 

Missed deadline

Audited financial statements for the public trustee were not included in the province's public accounts released Oct. 31, as required under P.E.I.'s Financial Administration Act.

A number of other Crown corporations and government agencies also missed their financial reporting deadline this year. But a look through government's archives show that the public trustee's financial figures haven't met the deadline to be included in government's official books since 2011.

CBC obtained audited financials for 2016-17 from the province via email. The province said financial statements for 2017-18 and 2018-19 are still being audited by the auditor general.

CBC asked to interview the public trustee, and in response received an email from a communications officer for the department of justice and public safety.

The department said the staffing allocation for the public trustee's office has "more than doubled" since 2017, and that there have also been improvements in technology "to help streamline future financial reporting."

Qualified opinion on financial statements

In her 2017 report, MacAdam found client files with the office of the public trustee were sometimes missing basic information such as a complete list of assets held on their behalf.

She found there was a lack of documentation to support expenditures made on behalf of clients, and that large sums which could have been invested on behalf of clients, earning them income, was instead left sitting in bank accounts.

Kerry Campbell/CBC

MacAdam provided a qualified opinion in the financial statements provided to CBC, effectively saying she could not verify the accuracy of the figures.

"It is not possible to verify by audit procedure that all client assets and liabilities, or the related receipts and disbursements, came under the administration of, or were recorded by, the public trustee," MacAdam wrote in her audit report. 

"Accordingly, my verification of trust assets and liabilities was limited to those recorded in the accounts."

Opposition hopes government will act

Beaton said she's waiting for an update from the auditor general on her review of the public trustee, to be included in the AG's 2020 report.

The province says that report will show that 63 per cent of the auditor general's recommendations have been implemented, and that compliance will hit 91 per cent once a new software system is implemented.

Beaton also said the province's Public Accounts committee, of which she is chair, has asked government for an action plan on how to get all departments, boards and Crown corporations to meet their legislated deadlines for financial reporting.

Kerry Campbell/CBC

She said for the public trustee to have missed that deadline for eight straight years — every year since 2011 — is "unacceptable … that's how I would absolutely define that."

She noted the PCs while in opposition expressed concerns around this which she now hopes they will act on as government.

"They now can put more accountability and transparency into their plans to try to bring them onside and I look forward to them doing that."

More P.E.I. news