Government assures changes being made to aircraft bookkeeping
The provincial government is promising to tighten up reporting around its contracted and chartered flights, as well as government-owned aircraft, in the wake of the provincial auditor general’s latest report.
Provincial officials and media are shown at the unveiling of the province’s newest air ambulance in March 2011. The province’s auditor general, Terry Paddon, has raised concerns about how the province tracks usage and expenses of its fleet of aircraft, and says record-keeping regarding flights and charters must improve. — Telegram file photo
Auditor general (AG) Terry Paddon looked at available paperwork from a sampling of flights paid for by the government in 2011 and 2012. As stated in his report, released Jan. 23, he found key information and even entire documents missing from those records.
Chartering a flight on the public dime requires pre-flight authorizations and post-flight reports, creating a paper trail to help with invoicing and tracking of government spending on air services.
In terms of overall costs, the provincial government spent
$8.6 million on 248 contract and charter flights in 2012-13. That cost does not include money spent operating air ambulance services.
Reviewing authorizations for 39 flights completed from April 1, 2011 to Dec. 31, 2012, the AG’s office found the documentation did not always state the purpose of the trip or the name the passengers on board. The purpose was not stated in four cases and passengers names were missing in 12 cases — despite being required by cabinet directive.
“As a result, the government department does not have a record of who flew at taxpayer expense,” Paddon states.
Flights went ahead without required signatures on the same authorization forms. Some authorizations were signed, but not dated, meaning it cannot be stated definitively if the flights were approved ahead of time.
Paddon found six cases where the authorizations were completed after the flight. This is considered OK if, as per stated policy, it is an emergency case. For example, a forest fire might be raging and extra aircraft needed right away to support government-owned water bombers. Accounting for the exceptions, the AG still found one case wherein a flight was approved after the fact.
In one case, an authorization form was never found.
Post-flight reports are to be completed after landing of a charter flight, but before passengers get off the plane. They are used to track information including flight routes, distance travelled and passenger lists, allowing for comparison against what was approved and determination of final costs, in case of a dispute over the bill.
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In one case reviewed by the AG, a post-flight report was never found. In select cases: passenger names were missing, flight routes ended up being different from the route approved and stops were made without explanation in addition to what had been approved.
At one point, government received — and paid — two invoices for the same flight, at a cost to taxpayers of an extra $6,763.
The Department of Transportation and Works has, in a written response to the AG, provided assurances all departments will be reminded of the need for proper approvals and documentation for contract and charter flights will be checked.
The air services division will not book any non-emergency flights without documentation in hand, the department’s response stated.
“In instances where flight plans have changed, detailed explanations of the variances will be required,” it notes.
Forest fire and air ambulance flights, meanwhile, are completed wherever possible using government-owned planes. The province’s 10 planes, used for fire and medical response, cost about $6 million in operating cost for the year ended 2013.
As part of his report, the AG noted maintenance on government-owned planes, even its new water bombers, should be tracked by individual aircraft rather than airplane model, as in the current system.
The change, he suggested, will help differentiate between spending on a two-year-old Beechcraft King Air ambulance and a 23-year-old plane of the same make.
“According to a division official, one of the island air ambulances will need major upgrades in the near future,” the AG states.
The province has software used for tracking aircraft costs and has committed to increasing training on that system as needed, “in order to track aircraft costs in an effective manner.”