Auditor General Merwan Saher released the Office’s Report of the Auditor General – October 2012 today which calls attention to some critical program areas of government and matters that impact Albertans—bridge safety, climate change and the protection of information assets. Through its financial statements audits, the Office reports on identified weaknesses in financial controls and processes within the 175 government departments, boards, agencies, commissions and related organizations that it audits each year. For example, the weaknesses described in this report may result in inaccurate public reporting about oil and gas revenues, inefficiencies in Alberta’s post-secondary institutions and the risk of incurring unnecessary expenses.
There are a total of 33 recommendations to government in this report, three of which are repeated. It was necessary to repeat these recommendations because these departments have not done enough to demonstrate they have implemented the previous recommendations.
Of particular note in this report:
Transportation—Managing Structural Safety of Bridges—The audit did not find evidence that Alberta’s bridges were unsafe but did highlight the risks to public safety and the protection of the investment in these assets. There are currently 4,400 bridge structures in Alberta, with an estimated replacement value of $6.7 billion. Albertans rely on these structures to be well-maintained—to be safe and allow for the movement of vehicles and goods. The Office examined the systems in place within Alberta Transportation to manage the structural safety of this valuable infrastructure. It found several deficiencies in terms of the quality, timeliness and completeness of inspections, the lack of adequate certification of inspectors, the contracting process used for inspections, the ability to monitor maintenance activities, and the access to information required by decision makers to assess the Department’s capital needs.
Environment and Sustainable Resource Development—Climate Change, First Follow-up—Climate change has far-reaching impacts on Alberta’s economy, natural environment and the health of Albertans. This follow-up audit focused on four of the ten recommendations that were made in 2008 and 2009. The Office found that while the Department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development had made satisfactory progress or had implemented most of its previous recommendations for this audit, one recommendation regarding public reporting had to be repeated. The Department has not improved the reliability, comparability and relevance of its public reporting on results and the costs incurred in meeting Alberta’s climate change targets. Without clear and accurate public reporting, Albertans cannot assess whether the government has made progress on achieving the targets it has set or if the monies being spent to achieve these goals are a wise investment that is yielding results.
Executive Council—Protecting Information Assets—The protection of information, particularly personal information, is of great concern. Albertans need to be able to access information online when they need it and feel confident in the fact that their personal information is protected from unauthorized use. The government creates, uses and manages large volumes of sensitive and confidential information. The audit found that IT governance could be improved and made more consistent across government. The Office recommended that Executive Council with its cross-government focus conduct a risk assessment to determine what needs to be done to mitigate the possibility of misappropriation of personal and government information. Further, a clear governance model is needed to determine who is responsible and accountable for this information across the whole of government to ensure assets are adequately protected.
ATB Financial—It is necessary to repeat a recommendation the Office made in its November 2011 Report regarding ATB Financial’s new banking system. The Office is concerned the institution has not done enough to ensure the key controls in its new banking system are implemented and operating effectively. Without this, management and the Audit Committee could be making decisions based on information that is not reliable.
Department of Energy—The Office found that effective controls were lacking in the reporting of royalty information disclosed in financial statements which could lead to readers of this information being misinformed about the amounts involved in royalty reduction programs.
Department of Transportation—The Office found that by delaying the implementation of a policy governing the use of personal vehicles, the Department missed an opportunity to realize significant savings.