Accounting review completed at regional district

  • Jun. 26, 2007 8:00 p.m.

An accounting firm hired by the regional district has recommended that the board take several steps to improve financial controls, but say they found no evidence of any wrongdoing or fraud during a two-day investigation. The board hired BDO Dunwoody, a Vancouver firm of chartered accountants, to conduct a financial review of certain operations, and to recommend whether or not a forensic audit was needed. Board members voted in March to have a forensic audit done, shortly after voting to terminate the employment of administrator Janet Beil. In a letter to the board last month, BDO Dunwoody partner Bill Cox wrote that the company conducted a two-day onsite review at the Prince Rupert office, with subsequent follow-up and discussions, focusing on the financial operations of the regional district between 2004 and 2007. “We did not find any indication of fraudulent activity or reckless spending,” Mr. Cox wrote. “Our procedures were very high-level and were not designed to be able to provide an opinion as to the existence of fraud. However, given the existence of budgetary controls, board oversight, and other factors; it is reasonable to conclude that the likelihood of the existence of a material fraud having occurred in the 2004 to 2007 period is low.” The work done by BDO was a financial review, not a forensic audit, and Mr. Cox said that in their opinion a forensic audit is not needed. Instead, he wrote, regional district directors should improve governance, hire the right staff and start planning for the future. The nine-page BDO report lists several recommendations, including hiring a full-time, experienced administrator (which the board has just done) and an experienced financial officer (although it notes that the regional district’s auditors do not believe a senior financial position is required). As well, the board needs to make long-term financial plans, and the report pointed to the islands landfill as a particular source of concern. “We found no evidence of any long-term financial planning,” Mr. Cox wrote. “A good example is the landfill operation which is expected to have significant closure and post-closure costs occurring within the next few years. Yet garbage pick-up rates have remained flat for years. There is a small reserve available, but we were unable to determine how the regional district intends to fund the closure and post-closure costs.” Additionally, billing for garbage pickup on the islands is creating too much administrative work. Some of the extra work is caused by residents starting and stopping their pick-up and expecting their bills to be adjusted. BDO recommended that the regional district consider whether stopping and starting garbage service should be allowed. Another concern raised in the report is Ms Beil’s settlement agreement. “We did not have the opportunity to view this first hand while on site, but several of our interviewees mentioned that the former administrator may not be fully abiding by a requirement of the settlement agreement that she not publicly discuss her removal from the position or the events leading up to it,” the report says. “We feel that it will be very difficult to quickly bring about the governance improvements that are necessary should this continue. We suggest that she be reminded of her responsibilities under the agreement. This is a complex legal area though and we strongly recommend that you take no action here until you first discuss with your solicitors.”

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