September 14, 1903 (9th Parliament, 3rd Session)

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The MINISTER OF FINANCE.

In all cases. There can be no letter of credit without an appropriation. We have had some differences of opinion with the Auditor General as to the proper interpretation of the Act. We have thought sometimes that the Auditor General gives the Act an interpretation which goes beyond the object of the law, and in view of the fact that the Auditor General feels it his duty to place this, interpretation upon the Act, we feel that we should relieve him from any possible mistake on that score, and from any undue responsibility, by introducing an amendment which will make it perfectly clear that beyond a certain point the Auditor General's responsibility ceases. We take it to be the Auditor General's duty to examine and adjust accounts. We understand it to be his duty to inquire first as to whether there is a proper appropriation. If there is, and he gives his approval to a certain account, then it is his duty to see that proper vouchers are furnished and that these vouchers correspond with the payments, which is somewhat the same duty in this regard that would be performed by the auditor of any company. If in any case the Auditor General finds anything inaccurate, or if he needs an explanation, he should at once communicate with the proper parties, calling their attention to what is wrong, and asking for an explanation. If it be found that there has not been an explanation given to his satisfaction, and if lie thinks that he is right in the matter, then he lias a further power, and that power is to set forth in writing his objections and opinions on the subject. These views are conveyed to parliament in the form of his reports. In that way parliament is fully

charged with everything in relation to the audit of accounts, and if under any circumstances the treasury board or the government fails in its duty, the party responsible before parliament must be the government. No system of audit can get us away from parliamentary responsibility. The Auditor General sometimes thinks he is bound to go further, and as he claims that he does so in virtue of the law, we think we should make it clear that the law never intended that he should carry his point as far as he does in some cases. If he has a difference with one of the departments at the present time, about an account he will claim the right to hold up the credit of that department, whether his contention is right or wrong. Assuming for the moment that his contention is right, if there is need for further explanation in regard to a given account, when he refuses to issue a letter of credit, he obstructs the business of the country and scores of people who have claims as to which there is no dispute are kept out of their money. The Auditor General claims that it is his duty to take that course. Therefore we think it well to make it clear that parliament never intended that he should reserve that power to himself, and we propose that when an application is made for a letter of credit to the Minister of Finance and the Auditor General, if, within two days the Auditor General fails to do his part the responsibility should devolve upon the treasury board and the government, and the treasury board may authorize the Minister of Finance to issue the letter of credit, and the treasury board and the government must be responsible immediately to parliament. We have no right to hold the Auditor General responsible if he has done his part, if lie has remonstrated and has set forth his objections in writing to parliament. But, in the meantime the public business should not be interfered with. The letter of credit having been issued the bank becomes entitled to repayment. At the present time the Auditor General claims that he has the right to refuse to pay anything until he is satisfied according to his own views. AVe say that when a letter of credit is issued in good faith, where a bank has advanced its money in good faith, and where there is no question as to the accuracy of the bank's claim, the bank should be repaid promptly, and therefore we propose that if the Auditor General does not promptly take steps to repay the bank, the Minister of Finance may take steps to repay the bank, irrespective of the Auditor General or the views which he may take.
In regard to the other method of paying accounts, where you do not deal by letter of credit but where the claim is sent directly to the Auditor General, sometimes delays occur. S- metimes these delays are unavoidable. Sometimes information is needed by the Auditor General. AATe think the delay there
is sometimes very much longer than it should be. We find that there is no provision made requiring the Auditor General to deal with these things promptly. We propose to relieve him from any undue responsibility, from that responsibility which we think properly belongs to the government which is subject to the criticism of parliament. So we say that if the Auditor General delays for an unreasonable time to pass an account, the department concerned may apply to the treasury board, and if the treasury board is satisfied that the delay is uureason-able, it may authorize the Minister of Finance to pay the account; always subject to this proviso, that we must be satisfied by the report of the Minister of Justice that the account comes within an appropriation which parliament has voted. There is another phase of the matter. The Audit Act never contemplated, I think, that the Auditor General should have power to hold up these accounts and credits ; but it does contemplate that the Auditor General, as re-pects a certain portion of his duties, should be subject to the overruling of the treasury board. Where under certain provisions ot the Act he takes exception to a payment, the department concerned has a right of appeal to the treasury board; but there is no fixed time within which that appeal shall be dealt with; and if the Auditor General fails to make out the necessary papers to bring the matter before the treasury board, a considerable delay may take place. AVe propose to make the treasury board the judge of what is a reasonable time ; and if. after a reasonable time, the Auditor General fails to place the papers before the treasury board, it may exercise its right independently of him, may judge of the merits of the case, and may approve or disapprove of the claim. So far as the duties of the Auditor General relate to an examination and audit of the accounts, so far as they relate to the checking of vouchers and the calling of the attention of the various departments to anything that is inaccurate, so far as they relate to the Auditor General placing his views in writing by way of protest, if necessary, before the various departments, or placing his views in writing or in print before this House-in short, so far as the duties of examination, adjustment and audit are concerned-we do not propose to take one iota of power or authority from the Auditor General ; but we simply say that when, as in the ease recently brought before this House, there is a condition producing a deadlock, there should be some authority to overcome the difficulty ; ana under cur system of parliamentary government. we know of no other authority than the government of the day to deal with these matters and to be responsible to parliament for their action. The proposal we make is to amend the Audit Act so that in these special cases, if the Auditor Gen. eral shall neglect or refuse or fail within

a reasonable time to take the course which we believe the Audit Act contemplates, the treasury board may take up the matter and deal with it irrespective of the Auditor General.

Topic:   CONSOLIDATED REVENUE AND AUDIT ACT AMENDMENT.
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