Kieran on Accountability (2012)

Read Kieran's 2012 letter to Windsor City Council regarding the need for an independent Auditor General to ensure Accountability.

 

Submission to Mayor and Council on Auditor General function for the City of Windsor

July 10, 2012 at 7:43am

Submission to City of Windsor Clerk

Re: Windsor City Council Meeting Agenda Item #4—Future Direction of the Audit Service

Meeting Date: July 9, 2012

Submitted By:  Kieran McKenzie

 

To Your Worship Mayor Eddie Francis and Members of Windsor City Council,

Thank you for considering my thoughts on this important issue.

I am writing you today as a concerned citizen and life-long resident of Windsor to express to you my strong opposition to the City of Windsor’s recommendation to outsource its audit functions.  Please accept my regrets for being unable to present my position in person; this should not be interpreted as a lack of real concern for this issue but rather an unavoidable schedule conflict that could not be remedied.  I have however taken the time to offer you this written submission for consideration.

Some of you know me already; however I will give you some of my background since an unfortunate element of this important public policy discussion has been the mischaracterization of concerned citizens.  I offer this in response to some of the principals involved, including members of City Council have chosen to trivialize the legitimate concerns of some citizens who have engaged in this process who in my view have only the best interests of the community at heart.  Setting aside the lack of common courtesy it is shameful for elected officials to demean citizens who are interested in engaging in the public policy process, particularly in an era of low participation rates, and general political apathy. 

It is possible to engage in civil discourse over issues where individuals have legitimate disagreement.  I expect Council and all of our elected officials to show leadership in this regard—some of our civic leaders have disappointed me through this process.

I am a life-long activist and student of politics very close to completing a Master’s in Political Science.  Currently I work for a federal Parliamentarian and have been deeply involved in electoral politics at the federal, provincial and municipal level.  I also host a weekly radio show Rose City Politics on CJAM where we examine issues impacting regional politics.  In short I am extremely familiar with our local political scene and I have a significant amount of professional and academic experience in politics, governance and public policy development.  Again I want to emphasize that I am writing this as a concerned citizen who—like you—wants nothing more than to make Windsor the best community possible.  My profession and education have taught me that governance structures are critical to creating that reality.

The principle point informing my position on this issue is that the City of Windsor and indeed any democratic institution should be striving to establish a governance model that maximizes transparency and accountability.  With respect to the question of how to structure the audit functions for the City of Windsor, it is my view that this can only be accomplished if the principle of independence is paramount in defining the role of the Auditor General.

I believe that the internal Audit Model proposed by Administration limits transparency and therefore the accountability that citizens of the City of Windsor can expect and ultimately will receive from their municipal government.  The fact that the independence of the office is not specifically legislated in this model undermines the reason to create the office in the first place. 

Oversight without independence lacks the cornerstone upon which it must rest—credibility.

I am imploring your Worship and Council to ask yourselves some fundamental questions while you deliberate how best to structure the City of Windsor audit functions.  How can an individual mandated to oversee the activities of any body, governmental or otherwise do so effectively if they are not insulated from potential reprisal (financial or otherwise) from the body they are mandated to oversee?   Moreover how can those who are asked to trust the findings of an audit, in this case the citizens of Windsor, be expected to do so when the auditor will not be independent, cannot determine what to investigate, and will not have unfettered access to the information required to comprehensively fulfill its function? 

By choosing the Internal Audit Model, Council will in fact pander to those voices are on the periphery insinuating all levels of malfeasance at Windsor City Hall.  Those of us who are so strongly recommending that Council continue with the Auditor General Model do so in some respects to inoculate both City Council and Administration from this kind of innuendo.  

I would like to commend Administration for compiling a comprehensive report.  In drafting this letter I found the information concise and relevant.  The section that clearly sets out the difference between the Auditor General Model and the Internal Audit Model was extremely useful (Section 3 Discussion).  The comparison clearly demonstrates the superiority of the Auditor General Model, if maximum transparency and accountability is the goal. 

It is clear that value for money audits can be uncomfortable for primary stakeholders. Particularly in the public sector, the findings can be politically damaging and it is understandable that elected officials and the administration charged with implementing its decision would be reticent to establish an oversight mechanism that is beyond the scope of their control once established.  Obviously this is not a good reason to choose an accountability mechanism that is is second best. 

However, despite the political damage it is clear that the work of the Auditor General of Canada and the Auditor General of Ontario has delivered value for taxpayers.  Consider the federal audit of the G20 spending that revealed significant spending irregularities associated with the costs that taxpayers bore to have Canada host the conference.  Despite the politically explosive nature of the Auditor General’s findings the Government of Canada admitted that they had made mistakes and would in the future seek to address the specific issues raised by the Auditor General in her report.  This was a victory to tax payers and could have only been accomplished under a framework where the Auditor General had complete access to documents relevant to her investigation.

Similarly, the Auditor General of Ontario has revealed massive mismanagement and misuse at ORNGE—Ontario’s air ambulance service.  The findings of the report are without a doubt troubling and politically explosive but this report will ultimately save lives.  Ontario’s Auditor General Jim McCarter was outspoken with reference to the lack of cooperation he received from executives at ORNGE throughout his investigation.  It is clear that without the legal authority to obtain the necessary information to uncover the scope of the malfeasance and mismanagement at ORNGE it would never have been revealed.  A parliamentary committee is currently working to ensure that ORNGE is fixed.  As a direct result of the findings of an independent auditor, Ontarians will be able to rely on this important service, confident that it is able to carry out its mandate efficiently and effectively.

I urge Council to consider Mr. McCarter’s report and whether or not the decision they make today will have potentially life altering ramifications.  Hyperbole aside, it is clear that the services that every level of government provides to citizens, impacts their daily lives and are relied upon to create a stable and well functioning society.  Governments as well as citizens must be confident knowing that those services are effective and efficient.

It is no exaggeration to note that you are making a determination today that will quantify the amount of accountability and transparency you are willing to offer the citizens you represent.  In this case, it is my strong belief that more is better.

There are numerous other examples where audits conducted under the authority of an independent auditor have delivered significant value for tax payers and ensured that dollars spent to promote the public interest are in fact meeting that standard.  The examples above sufficiently highlight, that the independence of the office must be paramount in order to deliver true value for the public. 

Consider the words of Sheila Fraser who served as the Auditor General of Canada from 2001-2011 and is universally respected for the value she delivered to Canadians in that role:

“To do its work properly, the Office of the Auditor General has to be credible; and to be credible, it has to be independent. The Office’s independence is fundamental to its ability to serve Parliament.”

Moreover, I do appreciate that Council is considering the budgetary implications of continuing with the Auditor General Model.  Numerous studies have demonstrated that governments committed to this level of oversight typically recoup the funds invested at extremely beneficial rates.  For example, from 2007 to 2011 the City of Toronto saw a staggering return on investment, receiving $10 back for every $1 invested in the office of an independent Auditor General. 

The City of Windsor cannot afford to ignore this.

The Mayor and Council have repeatedly made reference to its fiscal restraint and competent financial management.  Getting this decision right is a fundamental element falling within that policy envelope.  

In sum, I am urging the Mayor and Council to re-affirm the Auditor General Model as the desired form for audit functions for the City of Windsor and to reject Administration's recommendation to outsource this function.  I believe that the independence of the office is crucial for both its own credibility as well as the credibility of the government it is mandated to oversee.  The financial implications are clear with respect to return on investment but most importantly an independent Auditor General ensures that tax payers receive maximum value for their investment in their community.  This is clearly a difficult decision for Council, it is my hope that you able to find the courage to enshrine the principle of good governance above all others.

I deeply appreciate the time you have taken to consider my thoughts on this issue and will look forward to your decision with great anticipation.

Sincerely,

Kieran McKenzie

Proud Lifelong resident of Windsor Ontario

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