Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Chiefs in line with online disclosure

Say delay in posting salaries is due to incomplete audits

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Several Manitoba chiefs say they have no problem posting their salaries and band finances online.

But most say they haven't done it yet, despite a deadline Tuesday set by a new federal disclosure law.

All 633 of Canada's First Nations were to have posted their chiefs' and councils' salaries Tuesday with midnight as the absolute deadline.

The 2013 First Nations Transparency Act requires First Nations to post financial figures 120 days after the end of the fiscal year, which made July 29 the effective deadline to comply with the new law.

A centralized federal website under Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development had downloaded the data from 21 First Nations by the deadline, including three from Manitoba's 63 bands.

There are good reasons for the delay, said chiefs gathered to elect a new Manitoba grand chief in Headingley Wednesday.

Bloodvein Chief Roland Hamilton said his community's accountant is still working on the First Nation's consolidated audit.

"It's typically not ready until August or September and it's the same for a lot of the communities," Hamilton said.

Once it's ready, he said he has no problem posting the data online.

In the meantime, his community, like others, faces financial penalties in the form of monthly funds that are withheld until the audit is in. It's the same every year, he said.

"We do the best we can," he added.

Norway House Chief Ron Evans said his community is also waiting for its audit.

"Of course we support it," Evans said of the new disclosure law. "That's not the issue. And ours will be filed as soon as the audit is done. We usually make our presentation to the community first and we should do that. But the only reason ours is not there is it's not done yet," Evans said.

Rolling River Chief Morris Swan Shannacappo said his community has disclosed salaries and audits since the federal government tried to pass the first disclosure laws and failed in the 1980s.

"We still need to show our people how that's expended, if it's public money," Swan Shannacappo said.

And if it's public money, he said he has no problem putting the numbers online either.

Rolling River's audit is also almost ready.

"Our auditor has had a hard time; we've been working almost daily with the accountant for the past two months to get the final report done," Swan Shannacappo said.

Fisher River Chief David Crate said his numbers aren't up yet because the band's website is being overhauled, but for the past several years the First Nation has worked with a First Nations finance authority that requires the same transparency as the new federal laws, so his community is used to posting its audits.

Fisher River volunteered its chief and council salaries and expenses as part of a national survey two years ago. "Fisher River was mid-range, middle of the pack in terms of salaries," Crate said.

Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson said, like other communities, Peguis holds annual meetings every spring to release audit information, including the salaries of elected officials, to band members.

"We don't need the federal government to tell us what to do. We already present our numbers to our community every year," Hudson said.

As for posting it on a public website, Hudson said the First Nation will follow its own laws. "I'm not against it. We have our laws for disclosure and if we want to put it up, we will... the disclosure calls for an open public forum whether that's online or in a public (meeting)," he said.

The issue for him is the principle of disclosure: Peguis is still working out federal compensation for flooding in 2011 and again this year. "I have no problem being accountable but the government should be accountable to us, too," Hudson said.

Under the law, Canada's 633 First Nation chiefs and councils must disclose their salaries, other forms of remuneration as well as finances from band-owned businesses and consolidated financial audits of First Nations bands.

The same rules already apply to civic, provincial and federal elected officials.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 31, 2014 A6

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