Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bill 'a start' to end corruption

Reserve members back measure to force financial disclosure

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OTTAWA -- A bill to force First Nations to post financial information online is a step toward ending corruption on reserves, a Manitoba band member told a House of Commons committee Monday.

Phyllis Sutherland, president of the Peguis Accountability Coalition, said she has been intimidated and harassed for years because she's asked questions about the finances of the Peguis First Nation, of which she is a member.

She said Bill C-27 wouldn't solve all the accountability problems on First Nations but would mean band members could find out some financial information without having to let on they're looking for it.

"It's a start," she said.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan introduced Bill C-27 last spring. It builds on Tory MP Kelly Block private member's bill, which died when the 2011 federal election was called.

The bill would require all First Nations to publicize annual audited financial statements and schedules of salaries paid to chiefs and councils on the Internet within 120 days of the end of each fiscal year.

Failure to comply could result in losing federal funding.

Although there is a policy in place allowing band members to obtain financial records for their own reserve, Sutherland said that is not always the practice.

She said she has a stack of requests asking for information from her band and none of them has ever been answered.

Opposition MPs appear likely to vote against the bill. NDP MP Dennis Bevington argued if First Nations are seen as legitimate governments, they should be able to decide on their own what information to make public and how to release it.

Conservative MP Rob Clarke said when it comes to public funds, everybody has to be accountable.

"I don't know if the opposition gets that," he said.

Colin Craig, prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, told the committee the legislation ensures band members get information that is commonly withheld for political purposes.

"Not surprisingly, the only people that seem to oppose this bill are politicians," said Craig.

Craig said not all reserve politicians are hiding the information and said by forcing all bands to produce their financial information, it will prove which band leaders are doing good things.

"Full disclosure will help everyone sort out bad apples from the good ones," he told the committee.

Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, has criticized the legislation as being colonialistic and paternalistic.

He said First Nations members are already allowed to get the information and said any requirement to publish financial information on band-owned entities may be illegal.

The Indian Act governs only financial information on government transfers, not money bands receive from businesses such as gas bars, gravel pits or airlines.

First Nations leaders are also critical of the bill because they weren't consulted prior to the introduction of the legislation.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 23, 2012 0

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