Lax reporting and risk controls found in aboriginal fishery program: audit

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - A $59-million federal program to train native fisheries managers lacked key reporting controls to track spending and results, says an internal audit.
The Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management program was launched in 2004.
Its goals include training aboriginal groups in coastal and watershed areas to help manage precious resources and protect species at risk.
An internal audit released under the Access to Information Act found several flaws in the way reporting requirements were structured.
It assessed 12 fiscal reports. They accounted for almost $13 million of the $59 million in federal funds the program received over five years ending in 2009.
Of those 12 statements, the audit found "only five (42 per cent of the sample) included all the financial information - the auditor's report, balance sheet, income statement" and other documents needed to analyze how money was spent.
"This lack of complete financial statements makes it more difficult for employees responsible for monitoring (program) funds to identify financial risks related to the financial position of the organization administering" that money, says the audit.
"Several payment requests were certified ... by program employees who do not have signing authority as required in the program terms and conditions," the audit found.
It also says that contributions of $250,000 or more were not scrutinized using compliance audits as required under results-based audit guidelines.
"Moreover, documentation kept in recipient files pertaining to audited financial statements is not always complete."
Monitoring of funding agreements was not formally documented, and risk management wasn't consistently in place "to ensure that the funds allocated to recipients are used for the stated purpose."
David Millette, director general of aboriginal policy and governance for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said audit requirements have since been tightened and streamlined under a new framework.
New risk management tools and training for program staff are also being introduced this year.
"There's always growing pains. It was a collaborative program where we had to work with recipients in order to roll it out properly.
"There were glitches here and there - we were learning on both sides. But I just want to stress that the audit did not find any instances at all of any inappropriate use of funds or in reporting documentation submitted by the recipients."
Audit demands are being consolidated under a new framework introduced last year, Millette said.
"One of the main rationales for this new umbrella is to reduce the burden of paperwork for the aboriginal people. Because many of them are involved in anywhere from three to five of our own programs, and there was duplication.
"They were spending more time reporting than they were actually doing the work that had been required under the program itself."
The program has helped create 23 native management boards with another nine in training, Millette said. They include Mi'kmaq and Maliseet groups in Newfoundland and Labrador and the Maritimes; Quebec Innu; Haida, Shuswap and Skeena groups in the Pacific region; and Dene and Metis participants in the Northwest Territories.
Traditional aboriginal knowledge is combined with non-native expertise to ensure an "integrated fishery," Millette said.
The program, one of six aboriginal fisheries initiatives, has been expanded with a budget this year of about $13.2 million.
It has created more than 260 jobs in or near native communities across Canada, Millette said. They include aquatic habitat biologists, fisheries biologists, technical operating managers along with aquaculture and habitat technicians.
"A lot of these jobs serve our department, contributing to our gathering of scientific information in order to make decisions.
"And so we need the information that's gleaned from them."

Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Geographic location: ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec Skeena Pacific Northwest Territories Canada

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