The Amherst Daily News
An ombudsman report says there is evidence that the Cumberland Regional Development Authority created invoices and obtained money from the province without direct expenditures.
© Amherst Daily News photo
A draft report by Nova Scotia's Office of the Ombudsman is questioning the financial practices of the Cumberland Regional Development Authority and is calling for a forensic audit.
[HALIFAX, NS] — The executive director of the Nova Scotia Associations of Regional Development Authorities is urging calm in light of an investigation into Cumberland’s RDA by the provincial ombudsman.
Responding to the release of the ombudsman’s preliminary draft report calling for a forensic audit of the Cumberland Regional Development Authority, Emily de Rosenroll said the community must avoid a rush to judgment.
“A rush to judgment would be premature and really unfair in these circumstances,” de Rosenroll said. “It’s a preliminary report that to my understanding was supposed to be confidential. Cumberland RDA and the province had until the end of the day yesterday to provide their feedback, so the information that was released was incomplete.”
de Rosenroll said the consultative report never should have been released to the media and admitted to being alarmed that it was made public. She hopes it doesn’t undermine the remainder of the ombudsman’s investigation into the complaint by a pair of former CREDA employees.
“It’s extremely disappointing in the manner in which this consultative report was released. We wouldn’t want a jury of public opinion to make judgment before having an opportunity to hear the other side of the story,” she said.
In his report, a copy of which was leaked to Halifax’s CBC Information Morning, ombudsman Dwight Bishop said there is evidence the development authority created invoices and obtained money from the province without direct expenditures.
He said these actions undermine the accountability process and brings into question matters of credibility and accountability.
de Rosenroll said regional development authorities have been around for 15 years and are considered a ‘best practices’ model for community economic development.
“We’ve done so many great projects and worked with so many partners it would be a shame to be overshadowed by these cases,” she said. “RDAs are extremely woven into the economic fabric of the province. These organizations are inextricable from their communities. There would be huge holes that would have to be filled if there weren’t regional development authorities.”
The executive director said a lot of improvements have made since the disbanding of the South West Shore Development authority amid controversy in 2010. She said Cumberland County’s case is in no way linked to what happened on the south shore.
Grant MacDonald, a continuing education professor at Dalhousie University, has worked with non-profit organizations and regional development authorities for several years. He said he was surprised and disappointed with the media leak.
MacDonald said he’s concerned that very little information was released to the media, adding it “sullies” the agencies and the names of the people involved.
The practice of non-profit organizations and agencies issuing invoices to government without work being done is common, he said.
While it may not be the best practice, he said it’s not illegal and the motivation behind it is not to pull the wool over the eyes of the government.
“It happens pretty regularly. Government departments have to find ways of funding the agencies, especially at the end of the budget year they have money left over and want to find ways to push it out into the communities,” MacDonald said. “Also if agencies don’t get the money right away for work they have to carry the costs. If you do the work and pay your employees and then submit your invoice to government, you will have to find a way to cover those costs if government is a little slow in paying,” he said. “You can’t say to employees that we can’t pay you until the government pays us.”
He said it’s a reality of how government transfers money to organizations for work within the community.
He’s concerned that government and the public could become too caught up in the surveillance of agencies and spends less time thinking about the economic health and development in small communities. He would hate to see agencies targeted without all the information getting out there.
“We’re getting a very simplified version of what’s a complex issue,” he said. “We’re very quick to judge people without having enough information. I’m a little concerned with the media putting it out there without investigating all sides of it.”