Senate human resource and finance officials provide virtually no oversight over the research work conducted by contractors on behalf of senators, Mike Duffy's lawyer argued in court today as he continued to press the argument that Senate regulations are broad and vague.
Indeed, Donald Bayne charged in provincial court in Ottawa on Tuesday that when it comes to the many Senate policies and guidelines that are constantly evolving, rules actually state that Senate administration has a "mandatory" responsibility to ensure senators follow those guidelines.
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"These people come in, and they aren't experts," Bayne said, referring to the senators.
Sonia Makhlouf, a Senate human resources official, agreed during cross-examination on the sixth day of the trial.
Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust related to expenses he claimed as a senator.
Bayne continued to advance his argument about the vagueness of Senate rules, getting Makhlouf to concede that senators have broad administrative discretion when it comes to deciding how to use their office budgets, including whom they can hire and the duties of their researcher.
And when it comes to work contracts, "there's no oversight whether the work was done, what was done, who did [the work], whether there was value for money for the taxpayer," Bayne said, and Makhlouf agreed.
Makhlouf also noted that only basic information is provided in contracts, including a couple of lines describing the services to be provided, and the signature of the senator. She said human resource and finance officials are often left in the dark about the work done because it's all carried out at the discretion of the senator.
Bayne asked if the way Duffy filed his requests for contracts was "like any other senator?"
"Yes," Makhlouf replied.
On Monday, Makhlouf's testimony was used by the Crown to build its case alleging the suspended senator charged taxpayers for non-Senate business through contracts with his friend Gerald Donohue.
According to the terms of the Senate contracts, valued at $65,000 in total, Donohue was being employed to provide consulting and editorial services. However, RCMP have said that Donohue did "little or no apparent work" for the $65,000. The Crown is attempting to show that payments earmarked for those contracts were instead used by Duffy to pay for non-Senate business, including payments to a volunteer, a makeup artist, a personal trainer, an enlarged picture of family members and an enlarged picture of Barbara Bush.
The Crown entered into evidence invoices from Jiffy Photo and Print addressed to Mike Duffy, "c/o Gerald Donohue Maple Ridge Media," which showed costs for picture enhancements, including those for photos of Bush and Duffy's daughter and grandson, as well as other personal pictures. Cheques entered into evidence appear to show Donohue's companies paying the bills.
Makhlouf had testified that Senate contracts would not be awarded based on those services because none of them would be considered parliamentary work.
But Bayne challenged some of that testimony Tuesday, referring to the Senators' handbook on the use of Senate resources. He said those guidelines clearly state that items such as advertising, publicity, film development and photographic services can all be properly billed as expenses.
Payment for photographs out of the office budget is "explicitly proper right?" Bayne asked. "Yes," Makhlouf agreed.
However Bayne and Makhlouf appeared to disagree over the definition of volunteer and whether a volunteer can be paid.
Makhlouf said that she had never processed a payment asking that a volunteer be paid because it was understood that a volunteer did work without payment.
But she agreed with Bayne that a senator could "change the status of a volunteer at any time." Because the status could change, Bayne suggested that a volunteer could be paid.