Local government auditor lacked knowledge – of local government

All but one local government felt the auditors demonstrated a lack of knowledge of how local government works

The City of Campbell River is one of 17 local governments that has issues with B.C.’s controversial auditor general for local government.

Some of the issues were revealed in a survey conducted by the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) of local governments that were selected to undergo audits by the province.

Survey results, which were released last week, reveal that all but one local government felt the auditors demonstrated a lack of knowledge of how local government works.

Dave Morris, the city’s general manager of facilities and supply management, confirmed that the City of Campbell River was one of those respondents.

“The city felt there was a lack of local government knowledge in audit staff,” said Morris who added that the audit process involved 10 city staff.

The city, whose audit began in June of 2013, is among several other local governments who still face an ongoing audit process.

That delay is among the reasons Basia Ruta, who was appointed the first auditor general of local government in January, 2013, was fired on March 23 of this year.

Ruta’s work had been called into question after a review of her office found she had only completed three audits in the three years since her position was established by the premier. She was expected to complete 18 local government audits in one year. Ruta was ultimately fired after being accused by the minister responsible for her department of obstructing the review of her office.

Municipalities who took part in the audits report that the department’s poor performance was in part related to a high turnover of staff.

Coun. Larry Samson revealed during a Strathcona Regional District meeting in April that a change in staff affected Campbell River’s audit and led to more staff time being taken up.

“This to me has been a complete failure by the provincial government,” Samson said during that meeting. “We spent countless staff time with the auditors going over our procurement and then there was a staff change. They came back a year or two later and did it all over again – again, more staff time and more cost to the city.”

Survey respondents also reported problems with what they were being asked for.

“While a majority of respondents (10 of 17) believed the scope was adhered to, a similar number (nine of 17) thought that the questions asked during the audit process were not consistent with the scope,” according to a survey report. “A narrow majority of those surveyed were of the opinion that the AGLG (auditor general for local government) and staff did not understand the audit topic.”

Municipalities also felt the cost to their staff was high.

“The majority of respondents indicated a staff involvement of six to 10 staff members,” reads the report. “Fourteen of the responding local governments also provided an estimated cost to fulfill audit requirements, with an average per community of $12,378. One respondent summed up the view of many by saying their staff were ‘frustrated by being asked the same questions over and over again by auditors who did not understand the business.’”

While Ruta is no longer in charge, the role of auditor general for local government still exists despite several local governments (including the Strathcona Regional District) urging the government to scrap the entire department. Morris said Campbell River is still in the middle of the audit process and is awaiting the results of its audit.

Former auditor general for B.C., Arn van Iersel, was appointed acting auditor general for local government in April and is working with the UBCM to improve the audit process, including training for auditors.