IF IT WASN’T for the news of new variants of COVID, the efficacy of vaccines, and the general threat of 20- to 39-year-olds to the health of us all taking up all the media space, last week’s report that the Thompson Nicola Regional District (TNRD) has forwarded information to the RCMP of potential financial irregularities would still be on the front page.
The TNRD has been plagued by controversy over the past months. Most recently, following internal and external pressure, the directors rescinded a policy that allowed liquor to be expensed at local government events.
Earlier, the local paper reported heavy spending on food and beverages by the TNRD, raising serious questions about accountability.
In the wake of a string of controversies, the TNRD has taken the prudent step of ordering an independent financial review and forensic audit of its operations. Hopefully this independent review will restore my faith and yours in the TNRD directors’ stewardship of our local regional government.
But what about the other 200 local governments in B.C.? Do we really want individual local governments to decide when it is time for their own practices are reviewed? Do we want, as is the case of the TNRD, that local governments set the terms and references of what the review and audit should encompass?
It would seem that not only the TNRD, but all of other 200 local governments in B.C. would benefit from periodic independent oversight.
Which was why in 2012, under the BC Liberals, the B.C. provincial government established the Auditor General of Local Government (AGLG). But then in February 2020, after less than a decade of work, and lack luster delivery of any meaningful reports or recommendations, the BC NDP announced that the AGLG would be shut down. The AGLG is now in the process of wrapping up its affairs.
Which is too bad. The affairs of recent months at the TNRD are strong examples of why independent oversight would benefit local governments in B.C. The TNRD cannot be unique in issues like expenditures for food and drink.
And there are other issues that local governments face that the AGLG could have assisted with as well.
All local governments face the continued threat of cyberattacks and extortions. Yet, even within the TNRD, there is a hodge-podge of ways that local government and citizens’ data is safeguarded.
Across the province, each local government does what they want for IT security. Some, like the City of Cranbrook, have already been extorted for funds. The AGLG could have brought for recommendations on spending on IT infrastructure to protect essential computer systems and data.
Local governments are responsible for providing safe water. Financial prudence to ensure safe water is essential. There are hundreds of water advisors and boil water advisories across the province, including some for system maintained by local governments.
The AGLG could have provided a report on whether spending on infrastructure and reserve funds was sufficient to safeguard the water systems.
Local governments are responsible for waste disposal in the province. One of the biggest liabilities for local governments is the long-term cost of maintaining and remediating landfill sites.
A report by the AGLG on whether local governments have saved sufficient funds for when a landfill needs to be decommissioned, and a new one established. Similar to a strata putting away money to fix roofs, the funds make sure future taxpayers won’t be penalized by current citizens’ garbage.
Local governments like the independence to do what they want, the way they want to do it. But that is not an excuse to put aside the responsibility to allow independent oversight of their operations. With the closure of the AGLA, all that has been established is that another local government controversy, somewhere in B.C., is just around the corner.
Too bad the AGLG is closing. It’s needed more than ever.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.