Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Audit shows First Nation misused Hydro funds

Crown corp. washes hands of mismanagement at band level

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The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is blasting Manitoba Hydro and the Selinger government over the results of an audit of a northern Manitoba First Nation.

The audit says members of Tataskweyak Cree Nation (TCN) were doubly reimbursed for travel expenses totalling about $100,000.

As well, it raises questions about the allocation of $2.3 million from Hydro for upgrades to the community's sewer and water system.

The audit says the money appears to have been allocated to other projects.

Colin Craig, the CTF's Prairie director, said the audit shows funds Hydro is giving to TCN -- as part of an agreement to build the proposed Keeyask generating station -- are being spent "without regard to the rules."

The audit, performed by a Winnipeg accounting firm, was completed in December.

Craig called the $100,000 in excessive reimbursements for travel expenses a "huge amount" of money.

"Band members want accountability," said Craig, who has been leaked information by disgruntled TCN members in the past.

But Manitoba Hydro said Wednesday it is erroneous for the taxpayers federation to suggest the Crown corporation has done anything wrong.

Band members may have double-expensed the First Nation on travel, but Hydro only paid once, said Glenn Schneider, a spokesman for the corporation.

As for the $2.3-million allocation for sewer and water upgrades, this was money owed by Hydro to Ottawa, which asked the corporation to pay it directly to the band, Schneider said.

The Progressive Conservatives have been questioning TCN's spending of Hydro money for weeks in the Manitoba legislature, suggesting the government and Crown corporation have been careless with ratepayer money.

The Opposition said the buck stops with Dave Chomiak, the minister responsible for Hydro. "Manitobans, I think, deserve answers," PC Leader Brian Pallister said Wednesday.

TCN Chief Michael Garson did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

Chomiak said it said it would be "inappropriate" for him to involve himself with the questions raised by the audit. He noted the document raised 13 issues altogether, only two of which related to Manitoba Hydro.

Furthermore, he said, the audit did not uncover any evidence of fraud. Instead, it said the First Nation needed to clean up its accounting practices.

"These deficiencies have to be addressed. No question," the minister told reporters.

 

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 20, 2013 A7

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Updated on Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 6:57 AM CDT: replaces photo

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