Nova Scotia's auditor general slammed the province's expense system Wednesday and said several politicians had filed "excessive and unreasonable" claims, in part because of inadequate spending controls.
In his 142-page report, Jacques Lapointe concluded inappropriate claims were made by some politicians for personal items, including almost $8,000 spent on a generator that was installed in a politician's home.
Some examples of excessive spending include $13,445 for custom-made office furniture, $2,499 for a television and $738 for an espresso coffee machine.
"We found a number of cases in which support for expenditures was deficient or did not provide adequate information to determine whether the claim for reimbursement was appropriate," Lapointe said in his report.
He added that some claims were provided without original invoices or evidence that payments were made.
Lapointe declined to identify the politicians whose expenditures he questioned, but by Wednesday afternoon, the report had thrown the three main political parties into damage-control mode.
A spokesman for Premier Darrell Dexter called CBC News to say that Dexter was among those singled out by Lapointe for his spending practices.
Shawn Fuller said Dexter had spent $2,150 on a digital camera and $5,501 on two laptops. Lapointe's report said only one laptop had been purchased with that money.
- $13,445 for custom-made office furniture.
- $6,234 for website design and programming.
- $5,501 for a laptop computer.
- $3,250 for a projector screen and accessories.
- $2,969 for books.
- $2,665 for a projector.
- $2,600 for a printer.
- $2,499 for a television.
- $2,150 for a digital camera.
- $1,763 for a video camera.
- $790 for a model boat office display.
- $738 for an expresso coffee machine.
- $750 for a GPS unit.
(Source: Nova Scotia auditor general)
"The premier does not intend to debate whether the expenses were reasonable, rather, he simply intends to repay them," Fuller said.
Dexter was out of the country and unavailable for comment.
No criminal wrongdoing
MLAs are entitled to spend $45,000 a year in payments that require no receipts. The auditor general's report examined the claims they did submit between July 2006 and June 2009.
"The extent to which system weaknesses, processing errors, innocent mistakes or conscious decisions by members contributed to these expenditures is unclear," Lapointe told reporters.
"What is clear is that ambiguous rules have contributed to irresponsible practices and questionable expenditures."
He said the expense system was "overly complicated" and he was not sure if there was anyone to manage the system correctly.
"You need to fix that system so everyone knows what the rules are and everyone knows how to apply them."
Lapointe said he found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. He also said some politicians have already paid back some money.
The auditor general also explained why he did not identify the people in his report.
"Ultimately, I decided to exclude members' names from the report not for their protection but because I hope to focus attention on a broken system that requires fixing rather than on individuals," he said.
Still, by Wednesday evening, several MLAs had come forward to say they would repay the amounts the auditor general had found excessive but were not specifically prohibited.
Politicians come forward
Speaker Charlie Parker promised to clean up the mess in the coming months, and began with an admission of his own.
"I am identified in this report as having purchased a model boat for $790 for my constituency office," he said.
Parker said he would repay that amount to the province.
Progressive Conservative member Richard Hurlburt said he was the one who purchased the $8,000 generator two years ago. He said he bought it to assist local organizations in the event of a power failure in his community.
"The generator is currently at my home for the purpose of keeping it charged," he said in a statement. "It is not and has never been used for personal purposes."
Hurlburt said he would pay the province back for the $3,000 cost of wiring the generator to his home.
Liberal member Keith Colwell said he repaid $252 after Lapointe said his purchase of 3-D art from his brother was inappropriate.
NDP backbencher Leonard Preyra said he reimbursed the $373 for airfare for a family member, that Lapointe said was a personal item. Preyra said he made the claim in error because of confusion over the receipt issued by the airline.