2,414 days later, spending watchdog to hold public hearing

For the first time in nearly seven years, the word "public" will again mean something in relation to the legislature's financial watchdog.

Public accounts committee has come under scrutiny for lack of activity in recent years

The spending watchdog at the Newfoundland and Labrador house of assembly will hold its first public hearing in nearly seven years this week. (Rob Antle/CBC)

For the first time in nearly seven years, the word "public" will again mean something in relation to the legislature’s financial watchdog.

The public accounts committee will hold a public hearing on Wednesday — the first since Jan. 19, 2006.

That’s a span of 2,414 days.

"We have a whole policy about transparency and accountability and we wanted to live up to that," Tory MHA David Brazil, the committee’s vice-chair, told CBC News.

Progressive Conservative MHA David Brazil is vice-chair of the public accounts committee. (CBC)

"It’s built in to our legislation, that the public accounts committee is set up to do exactly that — identify issues that the auditor general brings forward, and address the need for making sure that every agency, and every dollar we spend, people are accountable for that. So we felt it was time to add the credibility back to it."

Premier Kathy Dunderdale pledged to look at the work of the public accounts committee after a CBC News investigation earlier this year.

Using provincial access-to-information laws, CBC News reported that the watchdog had met just once — in private — over the prior 15 months. One Tory MHA had been paid $10,000 to attend that one in-camera meeting.

The lack of activity contrasted with a key recommendation in the Green Report — the examination of house of assembly practices released in 2007 by the chief justice of the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, in the wake of the spending scandal.

"If we have a public accounts committee and they ought to be meeting, then they ought to be meeting, that's my view, so I'm going to go back right away and have a look at that one," Dunderdale said in Februrary.

Met with auditor general

The committee reformed in April. It has since met with the auditor general, to review his most recent report.

Wednesday’s public hearing will see MHAs question officials with the Marble Mountain Development Corporation about the AG’s findings.

A report issued in January by then-auditor general Wayne Loveys identified issues with the corporation’s financial position, along with compensation, tendering and travel practices.

Brazil says public hearings will allow Newfoundland and Labrador to fall more into line with other provinces, who have more active legislative watchdogs.

PAC chair Jim Bennett, pictured in a file photo, wants more of the committee's work done in public. ((CBC))

"The intent here is to make sure that we’re like every other jurisdiction in this country, that people are accountable, regardless of what role they have in government or agencies, to account for the money that’s being spent," Brazil said.

Liberal MHA Jim Bennett, who chairs the committee, says he hopes to see less work done behind closed doors.

"The proper role, in my view, of a public accounts committee is to hold public meetings," Bennett told CBC News.

"The meetings not in public should be the exception rather than the rule."

The committee has at least one more public hearing planned, with the Western School District. That was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but has been postponed until next month.

The committee hearings will be recorded on audio.