Merwan Saher, Alberta’s auditor general, today released his office’s recent audit work in the Report of the Auditor General of Alberta—March 2015. There is a total of one repeated and 15 new recommendations to government on how it can improve its control systems and processes in this report.
Student attendance, flood mitigation, pipeline monitoring, dam safety, international offices and post-secondary education illustrate the breadth of government activity covered by the audits in this report. That breadth also provides us an opportunity to identify common themes in our audit findings.
In his message, Auditor General Merwan Saher stated, “It is clear to us from these diverse audits that the quality of the systems the government uses to manage its work is proportional to the quality of the oversight it provides. In other words, good oversight will invariably produce better systems to achieve desired results.”
Student attendance in the Northland School Division remains unacceptably low. We have recommended that the Department of Education exercise oversight of the division’s plans to improve student attendance. In our view, oversight is the key to not failing another generation of the division’s children.
The Department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development is not able to demonstrate that its systems are adequately regulating dam safety. Our audit findings point to inadequate oversight of the Dam Safety staff within the department.
In contrast, our audit findings for pipeline monitoring illustrate the influence of good oversight. The Alberta Energy Regulator, with a board and management that think as regulators, has systems that demonstrate it is performing its essential function—ensuring that pipeline operators act responsibly, with public safety and the environment as their priority. The AER can improve and we make recommendations to that end.
Our reports on post-secondary institutions over the last few years are evidence of the improvements that occur when oversight is vigorous and focused on demanding improvement. By way of caution, we repeat our observation that good financial control systems will be sustained only if vigorous oversight continues.
Our audit of the government’s (the departments of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development and Municipal Affairs) flood mitigation systems found weaknesses in two key places:
- identifying flood hazard areas and establishing processes for controlling, regulating or prohibiting future land use or development in designated flood hazard areas
- establishing processes to assess the cumulative effect of flood mitigation actions in communities when approving new projects or initiatives
In 2013 the Municipal Government Act was changed to allow the Government of Alberta to make regulations to control, regulate or prohibit any use or development of land in a floodway. The Department of Municipal Affairs is working on the Floodway Development Regulation to limit property damage and risk to public safety from future floods within a floodway. Once complete, the department needs to establish systems to implement and enforce the regulation.
In July 2013 we reported that the International Education Division of Medicine Hat College was operating without oversight by the college’s board, placing the institution at reputational and financial risk. We are pleased to report that all of our recommendations have now been implemented. These changes have improved the college’s transparency and accountability for the results of its international education activities. The college stopped admitting new students at its offshore campuses in China and pursued an exit strategy that supports students to complete programs in progress.
Finally, we again recommend that the Department of International and Intergovernmental Relations improve the processes management uses to evaluate the performance of each international office. To fully implement the recommendation, the department must finalize its processes to regularly perform periodic in-depth reviews of each office’s continued relevance and cost effectiveness. Variance analysis and adequate descriptions of performance measures methodology for individual offices should be regularly reported and updated as the government’s international strategy and priorities change.