Merwan Saher, Alberta’s auditor general, today released his office’s recent audit work in the The Report of the Auditor General of Alberta—October 2014. The report contains the findings and recommendations for financial statement and performance measures auditing of 150 government entities, as well as five new stand-alone systems audits, two follow-up systems audits and the 2014 results analysis report for the office. There are a total of 23 new and 3 repeated recommendations to government on how it can improve its control systems and processes in today’s report.
In his report, Mr. Saher stated, “We want to reiterate the message from our July 2014 public report regarding the need for improved results analysis reporting. This October 2014 report provides further evidence of that need—seniors care and the joint Canada–Alberta plan for oil sands monitoring.”
“The purpose of results analysis is to learn from what you do, so that you can do better in the future. Reporting those results helps Albertans understand what the government is achieving and how it might improve. Our July 2014 report provided a framework for three inseparable elements: governance, oversight and accountability for results. We urge users of our public reports to revisit the July 2014 report,” he added.
Of particular interest are the following audits.
Seniors Care in Long-term Care Facilities (page 71)
Every program and process we discuss in this report serves a single function—to make sure that individual residents receive the daily care they need. All monitoring processes, funding models, contracting arrangements, staffing, education and training, performance measures and reporting, standards, legislation—everything—exists to ensure the basic needs and the unique care needs of every resident are met. And at the heart of everything is each resident’s care plan. It is the sum of all of the care plans in a facility that establishes the right staff at the right time to deliver the right care to each of the residents.
The Department of Health and Alberta Health Services have made improvements in the right direction since our 2005 audit. This momentum must be reinforced to complete the task of ensuring every resident’s individual needs are met. We found that Alberta Health Services has insufficient assurance that long-term care facilities are appropriately and consistently allocating publicly funded staff hours to each shift, to deliver daily care that fulfills individual residents’ care plans. Additionally, the Department of Health needs to improve public reporting on the results achieved for the funds provided.
A key point in our September 2014 public report is that actively managed patient care plans are at the heart of cost-effective chronic disease management. The clear message of both reports is that consistent, province-wide quality in health care depends on patient-centred systems.
Joint Canada-Alberta Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring (page 23) The plan describes projects the two governments agreed to carry out over three years starting in 2012. The purpose is to understand the cumulative effects of oil sands development and determine whether the development is environmentally responsible. The two governments released their first annual report 15 months after the plan’s first year ended. The report was not clear on whether the plan was on track; it also contained inaccuracies. The Department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development’s project management was weak.
In April 2014 the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency took over Alberta’s commitments under the joint plan. AEMERA needs to clarify actions for implementing outstanding commitments at March 2015 (the end of the joint plan).
Natural Resources Conservation Board—Confined Feeding Operations (page 67)
There are about 2,000 confined feeding operations in the province, posing a contamination risk to groundwater and surface water.
In a series of audits since 2004 we have examined the NRCB’s process for monitoring confined feeding operations. Two matters remained outstanding in 2013. We are pleased to report we have now concluded that for groundwater the NRCB ranks compliance and enforcement activities based on risk. For surface water risks, the NRCB has demonstrated that its compliance approach is adequate.
Various Departments—Contracting (page 57)
Sole sourcing of contracts can be appropriate when the contractor was selected because of its proprietary expertise or in the event of an emergency, where time is of the essence—but the explanation of the decision must be documented and authorized before the contract is entered into and the work starts. We found the departments of Health, Municipal Affairs and Executive Council did not follow their contracting policies. The rationale for contracting and the demonstration of compliance with policy was not properly documented before work started. Also, administration of these contracts was sub-standard.
There is a lesson here. It is not wrong for anyone, based on their experience, to recommend a contractor in particular circumstances. It is wrong, however, for the party acting on that advice to treat the advice as overriding their obligation to comply with all of their contracting policies before and during the contract that they now have ownership of.
We noted during our work that the departments of Health, Municipal Affairs and Executive Council have three different contracting policies for procuring services. We intend to follow up with government to understand why this is the case.
Innovation and Advanced Education—Post-secondary Institutions (page 155)
Our report card on internal controls over financial reporting at the universities of Alberta, Calgary and Lethbridge, and Athabasca University shows “green,” which is good. Athabasca University still has work to do implementing outstanding recommendations. The challenge now, which should not be underestimated, is to sustain the quality of their control environments. In our opinion, board vigilance will be the crucial determinant of ongoing success in not only effective year-end financial reporting processes but also the preparation of high quality financial information throughout the year.
Outstanding Recommendations (page 19)
We are making progress, albeit slowly, on reducing the number of outstanding recommendations. With each report we publish we add to the total number of recommendations for departments to implement, but at the same time we are seeing an increase in the number of implemented recommendations. Since October 2013 we made 44 new recommendations and reported that 73 have been implemented.
As we say in our Results Analysis Report 2014 (page 242) we have learned that reducing a backlog of outstanding recommendations requires singular focus. We appreciate the support of ministries and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts in this endeavour.
The following five ministries have the greatest number of recommendations outstanding for more than three years, so we must all focus on them in the next year: Health (15); Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (15); Innovation and Advanced Education (6); Infrastructure (4) and Treasury Board and Finance (4).