The vast majority of First Nations chiefs and band councils have yet to post their financial statements online under new transparency rules passed by the federal government last year.

Under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, First Nations leaders have 120 days after the first quarter — so, by end of day Tuesday — to make public their audited financial statements for the last fiscal year, including the salaries and expenses of their chiefs and councillors.

As of Monday night, on the eve of the deadline, the government confirmed that 20 First Nations out of more than 600 had their financial statements posted on the government's web site.

First Nations already have to produce their financial statements as part of their funding agreements with the federal government, but this is the first time they are being asked to post the information online.

First Nations without a website can ask larger First Nations organizations to post their financial statements for them.

Under the new rules, the minister in charge must also publish the documents on the department's website. 

First Nations who refuse to comply could be subject to a court order or see funds withheld from them.

Transparency and accountability

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt reminded First Nations of the new rules in a written statement last Friday.

"First Nations, like all Canadians, deserve transparency and accountability from their elected officials," he said.

"With increased access to basic financial information, community members can make more informed decisions about the financial management and reporting of their elected officials."

"First Nations that have yet to submit their audited consolidated financial statements and schedules of remuneration and expenses for chiefs and councillors are encouraged to submit the documents as soon as possible. My department will continue to post as the documents are received," Valcourt said.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Ghislain Picard said First Nations are supportive of accountability and transparency, but the AFN does not support the act because it calls for disclosure of information "above and beyond that of other governments."

The legislation "in no way addresses calls by First Nations for reciprocal accountability, that the government demonstrate its accountability to First Nations including spending and outcomes related to First Nations, as called for in many reports by auditors general over the years," Picard said in a written statement.

The government has said all along it was First Nations members who approached Ottawa asking for greater transparency "as a result of difficulty obtaining financial information from their elected local officials."

Although there may be a delay between the time First Nations submit their documents to the government and the time they are posted online, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs has committed to publishing them "without delay."

Clarifications

  • This story has been updated to make it clear that the 20 First Nations that have posted statements online as of Monday refers to the number posted to the government's website.
    Jul 29, 2014 8:34 AM ET