Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/10/2012 (2950 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Office of the Fire Commissioner wrongly used a $950,000 federal green-building promotion fund to pay staff salaries during a three-year period.
The practice began in 2008-09. It wasn't discovered until after the province's fire commissioner, Christopher Jones, was dismissed last summer.
At the time, provincial officials said he was fired because of doctored expense accounts, but it appears the OFC's accounting problems were much broader.
The office, under new management since July 2011, has since repaid Ottawa the full amount, although it's likely to receive $165,000 or more back as the two sides continue to pore over what a provincial government cabinet minister admitted Thursday is an accounting "mess."
Dave Schafer, a longtime OFC employee who was appointed fire commissioner after Jones' dismissal, said Thursday he was disappointed and upset when he and a senior provincial official seconded to the fire commissioner's office discovered the problem last summer.
Schafer immediately alerted Ottawa. The federal government, already suspecting something amiss, had requested more information about the OFC's use of the program a few months before Jones was sacked.
Schafer said in an interview Thursday it did not appear Jones used the money to increase the number of staff at the OFC. He said staffing remained relatively constant throughout the period in question.
Asked to explain how a federal program could have been improperly tapped to pay staff salaries, Schafer was at a loss. "I can't really say because the people responsible are no longer here."
The green-building fund, which was to help Manitoba adopt a new model energy code for buildings, wasn't the only pot of money the OFC mismanaged.
A fund from the provincial Local Government Department was also botched, this time at the OFC's expense.
In 2008-09 and 2009-10, the fire commissioner's office failed to submit bills to the province for training grants it made to provincial fire services. Up to $130,000 annually was available from the province in those years for training, but the OFC didn't receive a cent because it didn't submit any claims.
In 2010-11, the OFC billed the province for $84,000 in training grants. All that time, the OFC listed the annual $130,000 grant as an outstanding account receivable on its books.
In addition to firing Jones, the province parted company with three other OFC employees when spending irregularities came to light last summer. The province asked provincial auditor general Carol Bellringer to do a forensic audit of the OFC's books. The audit is said to be nearing completion.
The Opposition Conservatives have demanded the police be called in to investigate, but the province says it will make that determination after it receives Bellringer's report.
Jennifer Howard, the minister responsible for the OFC, said Thursday Schafer and new financial staff at the OFC should be commended for finding the irregularities and, in the case of the green-building fund, bringing it to federal and provincial attention.
"I think that this is part of the mess, quite frankly, that we're trying to clean up at the Office of the Fire Commissioner," she said.
A spokeswoman for Natural Resources Canada said in an email Thursday her department and the OFC are "working together to determine the value of work completed" under the green-building program.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.