Merwan Saher, Alberta’s auditor general, today released his office’s recent systems auditing work in the Report of the Auditor General of Alberta—July 2015. There are 11 recommendations to government on how it can improve its control systems and processes. The auditors examined systems to manage:
- grazing leases
- the Mine Financial Security Program
- the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation
- the delivery of mental health services to Albertans in need
- the structural safety of bridges
In his message, Auditor General Merwan Saher stated, “We believe the best way for Albertans to get what they want—their government delivering first class public services—is to focus on results.” He reiterated the need for ministers to provide oversight, not operational management, of the public service.
Department of Environment and Parks
The department manages some 5,700 grazing leases on more than five million acres of public land on behalf of Albertans, receiving about $4 million annually from these leases. Albertans benefit by having leaseholders who help ensure long-term sustainability of the land, and who protect animals and plants at risk where needed.
Overall, the department’s processes ensure that public land used for grazing livestock is in good health. However, the department cannot demonstrate that the grazing lease program is meeting defined objectives. Personal financial benefits are being derived from public assets. Current legislation allows an unquantified amount of personal financial benefit to some leaseholders over and above the benefits of grazing livestock on public land. These benefits arise from compensation for allowing industry operators access to sub-surface resources, and from selling or transferring their lease to another leaseholder.
The focus of the Mine Financial Security Program audit was whether the MFSP constitutes an approach that provides sufficient financial security. For the design and operation of the MFSP to fully reflect the intended objectives of the program, we concluded that improvements are needed to both how security is calculated and how security amounts are monitored. Without these improvements, if a mine operator cannot fulfill its reclamation obligations and no other private operator assumes the liability, the province is at risk of having to pay substantial amounts of public money. We made two recommendations: one to the department and one to the Alberta Energy Regulator.
The Specified Gas Emitters Regulation is a key action in Alberta’s strategy to reduce emissions. The department’s progress in implementing our recommendations has been slow—it has not implemented two of the five, with the result that it still lacks effective processes to manage key risks in its systems to regulate large emitters. The department does not know if oil sands facilities followed its guidance for tailings ponds emissions. With respect to offsets, it lacks assurance that offsets from no till farming are real, and lacks process and evidence that all offsets used for compliance purposes are claimed only once.
The government renewed the SGE Regulation on June 24, 2015. Our repeated recommendations are designed to help the department manage the program well.
Department of Health and Alberta Health Services
Auditors re-examined the Department of Health and Alberta Health Services’ systems to manage the delivery of mental health services throughout the province. Severe and persistent mental illness is a chronic disease and should be treated like one. Mental illness affects one in five Albertans during their lifetime.
The department has failed to properly execute its 2011 addiction and mental health strategy. There is no need to redesign the strategy; rather the department needs to arrange for it to be carried out. The department also has not done any detailed analysis or reporting on the strategy. Without analysis it is not possible to know if, and how, the plan has led to significant and meaningful change in how mental health and addictions patients are cared for. Alberta Health Services has made important improvements since our original 2008 mental health audits. For the most part, however, the delivery of frontline addiction and mental health services remains unintegrated and allows ongoing gaps in service continuity.
In our opinion, based on the evidence we have from this and other recent audits of healthcare service delivery, AHS has both the mandate and capacity to coordinate the efforts of those entities that should be involved in integrating public mental health and addictions services.
Department of Transportation
In October 2012 we reported the results of our audit of the Department of Transportation’s systems to manage the structural safety of bridges. With this follow-up audit, we can state that the department has made significant improvement to its processes. We did not find evidence of unsafe bridges when completing our follow-up audit procedures. However, processes to contract inspections to independent third parties still require improvement. Also, the department’s decisions on selecting contractors lack clarity, and it should complete an analysis on the cost effectiveness of contracting out these services.