What we examined
The First Nations Development Fund is a lottery grant program available exclusively to First Nations in Alberta. It is supported by a portion of revenues from government-owned slot machines in Alberta First Nation casinos. Since 2006, the Department of Aboriginal Relations has allocated over $600 million in FNDF grants to support hundreds of social, economic and community development projects in Alberta’s First Nation communities.
In February 2012, the Enoch Cree Nation applied to the department for a FNDF grant of $317 million over seven years. The grant application stated that ECN intends to use these funds to pay for refinancing and operating costs of the River Cree Resort and Casino. Our objective was to determine whether the department’s systems to assess the eligibility of the ECN’s application were followed and were consistent with the objectives of the FNDF grant program and the FNDF grant agreement. During the course of the audit, we included other First Nations’ projects and concluded on improvements that could be made to the overall systems.
What we found
The department developed additional processes to improve its existing system to review, assess and approve complex grant applications. When followed, the department made informed decisions that funding uses were consistent with the program objectives and grant agreement. When the process was not followed, its analyses were incomplete and insufficient for some approved funding uses.
We also found that the department did not formalize and communicate its interpretation of eligible uses of funds. It also did not consistently monitor for and correct non-compliance with the grant agreement.
What needs to be done
We made the following three recommendations that apply generally to the FNDF grant program:
Formalize and communicate interpretation of eligible uses—We recommend that the Department of Aboriginal Relations formalize and communicate its interpretation of eligible uses of funds.
Improve review process—We recommend that the Department of Aboriginal Relations improve its processes to review and approve grant applications by:
formalizing the additional review processes it developed for complex grant applications
consistently obtaining sufficient information to support its assessment of grant applications
Monitor for and correct non-compliance—We recommend that the Department of Aboriginal Relations improve monitoring processes by consistently ensuring First Nations comply with reporting requirements and acting to correct non-compliance with the grant agreement.
Why this is important to Albertans
Albertans, especially First Nations people in Alberta, need to have confidence the FNDF program supports social, economic and community projects that enable First Nation communities to participate in Alberta’s economy.