Millions in Tax Dollars
Millions wasted, auditor finds
A number of Ontario’s public sector workers and managers overseeing expense accounts are unable to account for millions in charges on taxpayer-funded credit cards, provincial Auditor General Jim McCarter reported today.
“I’d have to say that we noticed examples across all broader public sector areas that we looked at,” McCarter said after tabling his annual report.
“The number of questionable examples that we noted across the system were certainly of concern this year . . . we have a lot of examples in here of what we would call really questionable expenditures.”
Staff at Hydro One, the massive transmission utility, purchased $127 million worth of goods and services using corporate charge cards, but McCarter’s annual report found few credit card slips or paperwork to justify those charges.
One senior executive at Hydro One had his secretary charge $50,000 to her charge card, even though most of the items purchased were for his use, while other staff wrote cheques on their charge card accounts totalling $41.2 million, McCarter found.
Staff at Ontario Power Generation failed to produce any receipts at all to support $6.5 million in expenditures. Managers at the government-owned power company also spent $300,000 for gifts, and $120,000 on gift certificates, for employees. The gifts included 40 leather jackets worth $8,000 each, given in recognition of five-year safety records.
“Contrary to corporate policy, none of these gifts were reported as taxable benefits,” McCarter noted.
The auditor general also examined four school boards across the province, and found one teacher spent $52,000 over two years on a purchasing card, including $4,000 spent during school breaks on DVDs, eyeglasses and Christmas lights.
Another teacher at the same board charged $11,000 over two years, including $2,800 on candies, chocolates and household supplies. Yet another employee had 12 purchasing card expenditures totalling $6,000, and no documentation to support the claims.
The auditor general won’t say which school board had the worst problems, but of the four he examined this year, Thames Valley District School Board in southwestern Ontario had 3,200 purchasing cards and racked up $5 million in charges — far more than the Durham District, Rainbow District and York Catholic school boards combined.
A litany of spending abuses at several Children’s Aid societies, which prompted an outcry last week after a draft report was leaked to the media, included purchases of SUVs worth $59,000 and expensive foreign trips to an all-inclusive Caribbean resorts.
One staffer, with a society-provided vehicle, also received a $600 a month tax-free car allowance.
“Numerous expenditures of hundreds of dollars at a time were made at high-end restaurants, but the purpose and reasonableness of these could not be determined,” wrote McCarter.
“The society paid, on behalf of a senior executive, for an annual gym membership worth $2,000, along with quarterly personal trainer fees of $650. Several car washes were purchased at $150 each.”
Ontario’s community colleges emerged fairly unscathed from the auditor general’s report, but McCarter did find several samples of gifts purchased for staff, including five gift cards worth $500 each given to staff at one college.
For the first time, the auditor general had the power to examine hospitals, and found they expose young children and even staff to high levels of radiation from CT and MRI scans. One CT examination of a child’s abdomen is estimated to equal 4,000 x-rays, which is eight times the radiation an adult would be exposed to in the same setting.
“None of the hospitals that we visited had analyzed the number of CT examinations by patient or monitored radiation dosages absorbed by patients,” wrote McCarter.
The auditor general also found there are 300,000 more health cards than people in Ontario, and said Workplace Safety Insurance Board patients receive quicker access to MRI and CT diagnostic exams than everyone else because the board pays $1,200 up front.
More health cards than people found in Ontario
The auditor general has found there are about 300,000 more Ontario Health Insurance cards than there are people in the province.
Auditor Jim McCarter says most of the extra health cards are held by people in Toronto, or those living close to the United States border.
McCarter also found there are hundreds of unlicensed doctors in Ontario still able to bill the system, even though they may have been suspended or moved away.
He also says there was at least $17 million wrongly charged to OHIP last year that the government failed to recover.
McCarter says the College of Physicians and Surgeons doesn't update its data on doctors who have died, retired, resigned, moved out of Ontario or had their license revoked.
At least 40 unlicensed doctors submitted claims last year and had them paid by OHIP.
The auditor general also found Ontario hospitals expose young children and even staff to high levels of radiation from CT and MRI scans and don't analyze the dosages absorbed by patients.
McGuinty promises plan to rein in CAS
A "higher standard" is needed to ensure children's aid societies spend taxpayers' money wisely after reports executives got luxury SUVs while children at risk waited for help, Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday.
Stung by revelations about misspending, the government will unveil its plan today after Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter releases his report.
Data on the SUVs, trips abroad, gym memberships, personal trainers and other perks for Children's Aid Society bosses were leaked last Thursday, stirring outrage among child advocates and the opposition.
"We want to put in place a higher standard," McGuinty told the Legislature, where the Liberals remained under fire yesterday.
"We'll be announcing what we're going to do in ... putting in place that higher standard. We deplore the kinds of events that were brought to the light of day because of the auditor general's new authority, and we'll be acting on that directly."
NDP Leader Howard Hampton said the plan is little more than "damage control" from the government, the first to allow the auditor general to look into publicly funded agencies.
"My suspicion is they knew about this a long time ago and they had done nothing until it broke into the media ... and then they decided they'd better have an action plan," said Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory.
Children and Youth Services Minister Mary Anne Chambers said she has been working on her plan for "several weeks" but would not discuss details.
McGuinty said it's good to have the auditor general look into such agencies "even if it hurts."
"That's good for us in government to better understand whether or not we're getting good value."
Taxpayers give children's aid societies across the province more than $1 billion a year. The revelations suggest the government hasn't been keeping a close enough eye on them.