This week Canada’s Auditor General, Karen Hogan, released the ninth and 10th audits that focused on the federal government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Report 9 focused on vaccines. While the audit notes Canada secured a sufficient supply of vaccine doses, it was also critical of significant levels of vaccine waste.
The auditor general noted there are approximately 32.5 million doses worth an estimated $1 billion that will end up wasted due to not being administered or redistributed elsewhere prior to their expiry dates.
Report 10 focused on COVID benefit payments. Here, the auditor general found several areas of serious concern. For example, she found there were $4.6 billion of benefit payments paid to ineligible individuals. The AG further estimates that a minimum of $27.4 billion in other benefit payments must be further investigated to determine proper eligibility. The audit also found concerns with subsidy programs that were targeted to businesses.
As one example, the AG stated potentially as many as 50,000 businesses may have received emergency wage subsidy payments (CEWS) in total value of $9.87 billion. These businesses may have also been ineligible.
Previously, some media organizations published stories of publicly traded companies that continued to pay executive bonuses, while at the same time collecting CEWS support from taxpayers.
Overall, the auditor general notes the government (payments), using “attestation” from businesses and individuals, resulted in many situations where benefits were paid to those who were ineligible.
While the government conceded this would be a foreseeable problem at the time, it also committed to doing a more thorough review and vetting of applicants after the fact. Here the AG is critical and notes the Government has presented no formal plan of action on this “thorough review and vetting.”
This raises the question how much of this potentially misspent money will ever be repaid to taxpayers?
Currently, the Government of Canada has reported it has collected just $2.3 billion from those who did not qualify for the benefits.
There is also the added challenge that the government has thus far not accepted the findings of the auditor general’s report, as is commonly the response from government.
In Question Period earlier this week, the National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier, stated the CRA does not agree with the Auditor General's calculations concerning recipients who were not eligible for the wage subsidy.
“The CRA's actual audits indicate that compliance with the subsidies was high and that the auditor general's figure is exaggerated,” she said. “This is not the auditor general's fault. We all know she was pressured by the opposition to produce this report.”
For the record, none of the opposition parties have any influence or involvement over how the auditor general conducts an audit or what the findings may or may not be.
There was a time when (Canadians) were not supportive of, or even outraged if, the government was not careful and prudent in the spending of tax dollars. However, in this case, by allowing for attestation instead of verification, the government was taking applicants at their word they were eligible for funding.
My question this week:
What are your thoughts on the government's use of an attestation in delivering timely support programs?
I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.