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Auditor: Financial irregularities in fire commission office

Manitoba Auditor General Carol Bellringer releases the annual Report  of the Legislature.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Manitoba Auditor General Carol Bellringer releases the annual Report of the Legislature.

Former employees of the Office of the Fire Commissioner received payments to which they were not entitled, using supporting documents that may have been fabricated, Manitoba’s Auditor General, Carol Bellringer, said in a report issued today.

The financial irregularities total $300,000 and cover the period from April 1, 2007 to July 2011, when the Selinger government called on Bellringer to conduct a forensic audit of the OFC.

What Bellringer also said:

1) Government budget
The auditor general will hold workshops with MLAs to discuss debts and deficits. The deficit for the 2012 fiscal year was $999 million, $561 greater than budget. The difference was comprised of a $437 million net loss related to unbudgeted flood costs and $124 million net loss related to unbudgeted non-disaster costs.
2) Citizen complaints
The AG’s office handled a series of complaints ranging from conflict of interest in government departments to issues regarding the North Portage Development Corporation such as salary levels.
3) Security management
The audit found security management practices in Business Transformation & Technology needs to be improved to properly secure information,
4) Day care
The audit examined the Manitoba Early Learning and Child Care Program and its oversight of licensed day cares and family home providers. It found gaps in its monitoring and enforcement activities.
5) eHealth
The eHealth program is moving patient papers records onto electronic form. The audit looked at the hiring and managing of contractors. It found eHealth’s tendering processes are adequate, but the number of departures from the competitive tendering process was significant and in some cases no documented.
6) Nominee Business Program
The provincial nominee program for business allows Manitoba to recruit qualified business immigrants. The audit found weaknesses in its assessment of applications and detection of false information.
7) Management expenses
The audit looked at senior management expense polices in 113 provincial agencies, boards and commissions. The audit found not all organizations had polices in place. It did not find any excessive expenditures.
The full auditor general’s annual report is here.

"Many payments were for personal expenses, amounts were claimed on more than one occasion, and in a number of instances payments were made with no supporting documentation at all..." the auditor general said.

Five former senior officials with the OFC were implicated in the financial irregularities. Bellringer doesn’t name them in her report.

But government sources said in August 2011 they included former fire commissioner Christopher Jones and former deputy fire commissioner Justin Panagapko. The two, and one other OFC employee were fired that July. Another employee reportedly took early retirement.

Bellringer told a news conference at the Legislative Building today her findings suggest the former senior OFC officials "colluded" to circumvent the requirement for a deputy minister to approve the former fire commissioner’s expense claims.

She said in one case a document may have been forged.

"Travel related expenses which we believe were fabricated consisted of meal per diems, private accommodation, private vehicle mileage and incidental expenses, none of which require a receipt," Bellringer said in her report.

"Government vehicles were assigned or available to these staff so it is questionable why they used their own vehicle," she added.

The irregularities were uncovered in 2011 when the provincial comptroller was notified that the former fire commissioner’s American Express card had been cancelled by the company.

Bellringer’s report only goes back to April 1, 2007 because OFC documents prior to that were destroyed.

The financial irregularities predate Jones’s promotion to fire commissioner in late 2009.

Bellringer said there is no evidence to suggest that the irregularities involved anyone outside the OFC, a special operating agency of government.

The Office of the Fire Commissioner enforces fire and building codes, inspects elevators and boilers and investigates fires and trains firefighters and paramedics.

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