Editorial — Municipal A-G a step in right direction

Premier Christy Clark's announcement that a municipal auditor-general will be appointed is good news for taxpayers.

Premier Christy Clark’s announcement that a municipal auditor-general will be appointed is good news for taxpayers, and it could be helpful to municipalities as well, should they choose to adopt a conciliatory approach.

When Clark suggested this new office, many mayors and councillors condemned it, stating that their expenditures were already audited. This is disingenuous.

Yes, their books are audited‚ but a year-end audit by an accounting firm is far different from specific performance audits of specific programs. Year-end audits pronounce judgment on general financial management, and rarely single out specific programs. On rare occasions, auditors will include a note about a specific program that raises some questions, but it is not part of their job to follow up.

A municipal auditor-general should be able to follow up on some of those types of “flagged” issues, as well as issues that are raised by taxpayers. Some of these may revolve around specific programs, particularly ones where accountability is less than transparent.

The provincial auditor-general did a performance audit of Langley School District after a number of financial problems cropped up. He made several specific suggestions, and the board of education is trying to implement them.

This was a valuable service which, in the end, will serve taxpayers well, and will ensure the provision of education in Langley is managed better, from a financial perspective.

Both provincial and federal auditors-general have performed many such valuable services, and the small amount it costs to run their offices has been more than justified by the savings they have identified. It can be safely said that they are one of the very few branches of government with a mandate to try and save money for taxpayers.

If municipalities accept the reports and advice from the new municipal auditor-general, it could go a long way towards improving their financial management. It will also help them to be more accountable to taxpayers.

The new legislation being proposed has one major flaw. It does not give the new officer the power to audit TransLink, which is a separate corporation, albeit largely under the political oversight of Lower Mainland mayors.

TransLink spends a vast amount of taxpayers’ dollars and, in Langley at least, is providing minimal service for the dollars spent. There were suggestions in the municipal election campaign that TransLink needs to be restructured again. If that does take place,  there needs to be provision for either the provincial or municipal auditor-general to have the ability to regularly examine TransLink’s delivery of services to the public.