The Senate is working hard to improve transparency and accountability. In that spirit, we invited outside auditors to look at our processes and systems.
Even though we did not have to, we have chosen to make these audit reports public, and on December 15th three audits conducted by Ernst & Young were tabled in the Senate.
Common misunderstandings of the report’s contents include the claim that spouses are travelling around the world. The Senate does not cover travel expenses for spouses outside of Canada, and the audit did not suggest that it does.
There also appears to be a mistaken perception that senators object to oversight as we disagree with Ernst & Young’s specific recommendations about second-level approvals for expense reports.
The Senate doesn’t object to oversight, and we agree that our expenses need to be reviewed by a second set of eyes.
In the private sector, a supervisor will approve the expenses of an employee–that is what is meant by the term “second-level approval.” Second-level approval is one way for expenses to be reviewed.
However, senators do not have supervisors. Legislatures are unique from most other companies and institutions in that we are all equal to one another, so it is technically impossible to have the equivalent to a supervisor sign off on expenses.
Instead, we have limits and rules on expenses, a very diligent Administration that assesses every one of our claims against those limits and rules, and a process to resolve differences.
Any concerns are brought before a panel of three peers for review. If they cannot agree, the issue is brought before a committee of 15 senators for review, and the senator in question must defend the expense.
The result of this process is that a second set of eyes does examine our expenses in a manner that is more stringent and onerous than a second-level sign off.
We welcome any recommendations auditors may make as an opportunity to manage ourselves better. We are encouraged by the useful audit findings and subsequent corrective actions taken to date, and we are continuing to look for ways to be more transparent.
Beginning in January 2011, the travel, office and hospitality spending of individual senators will be made public. This information will continue to be made public on a quarterly basis.
Senators are dedicated to moving forward in making the institution more accountable to the Canadians they serve, and will continue to strive to manage public funds consciously and carefully as we carry out our duties as parliamentarians.