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Report of the Auditor General of Alberta

 

Auditor General’s Message

We are the auditors of every ministry, department, fund and provincial agency, including publicly-funded universities and colleges, and Alberta Health Services. Our audit work focuses on improving governance and ethical behaviour, the safety and welfare of Albertans, and the security and use of Alberta’s resources.

We do related types of auditing: financial statements, systems (or value-for-money), performance measures, results analysis and research, advice and compliance with laws. This report has results from both systems and financial statement audits. Systems audits can be stand-alone looking at major programs. Or they can be by-products of other audit work. In both cases, our goal is to identify root causes of inadequate systems and recommend how to improve the systems.

Systems auditing

I want to draw particular attention to:

Infection prevention and control at Alberta hospitals—healthcare-acquired infections pose a significant health risk. Our audit results, including recognition of more focus on IPC, are summarized at page 17.

Food safety—we have found it necessary to repeat for the second time the government’s need to improve and integrate its accountability for food safety and report the results of its strategy. Our audit results, which include what the government has achieved, are summarized at page 51.

Information technology—IT is fundamental to program and service delivery, yet we regularly find various IT weaknesses. This report includes five new IT recommendations. The weaknesses point to a lack of consistently adequate IT oversight. Soon we will follow up on our outstanding recommendation to Executive Council (see page 119) that was designed to improve oversight of IT security throughout the government.

Accountability—at the heart of our recommendations in these three areas is the need for improved accountability that would produce better results and lower risks. Accountability is the obligation to show continually improving results in the context of fair and agreed on expectations. For Albertans to receive the value for money they deserve, all those who use public resources must:

  1. set measurable goals and responsibilities
  2. plan what needs to be done to achieve goals
  3. do the work and monitor progress
  4. report on results
  5. evaluate results and provide feedback

Improved results will come from using this simple model only if all responsible parties play their part. Otherwise there is an accountability vacuum that drives up risk.

Those delivering service must be clear on what they have agreed to do. Those providing oversight must check that control systems are working well (the auditor is not the only one who must check).

CEOs of provincial agencies and deputy ministers must measure their organizations’ performance to develop the next plans. Did they achieve their intended results at a reasonable cost? Did their strategies work? Management’s reports on results, together with analysis, are important tools needed by ministers, cabinet and agency boards to carry out their oversight responsibilities. Published results analysis is the means by which those with the ultimate oversight role—MLAs, on behalf of the public who pay taxes and receive services—evaluate how well the government has done and what has been learned to improve future performance.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the model to do well is reporting and evaluating results—and even more difficult when more than one ministry or more than one agency shares accountability. But if results analysis is done poorly, then the whole model becomes increasingly ineffective since its sole purpose is to drive improved results. I intend to continue to use my office’s resources to assist Alberta’s public service in its goal of achieving optimal results across government.

Update on disaster recovery program

We report that the Department of Municipal Affairs implemented our October 2009 recommendation to improve its management of the disaster recovery program. This involved setting timelines related to federal funding and periodically adjusting costs and recovery estimates.

Following on the severe flooding in June this year, we have agreed to audit the quality of the planning and execution of the government’s current flood mitigation efforts.

Financial statement auditing

I want to draw attention to page 73—Financial Statements and Performance Measures—because this one critical page conveys the direct result of about 75 per cent of our audit effort. We report that we issued unqualified independent auditor’s reports on the financial statements of over 150 entities, including the consolidated financial statements of the Government of Alberta for the year ended March 31, 2013. We also report the extent of our work on ministry and agency performance measures, including the government’s Measuring Up report for the year ended March 31, 2013.

The fact that none of our auditor’s reports on financial statements contained a reservation of opinion means that Albertans can be sure they are receiving high quality information from the government on the province’s actual financial performance.

Fewer outstanding (unimplemented) recommendations

The trend is in the right direction—the number of our unimplemented recommendations keeps decreasing. It has gone from 308 in October 2010 to 233 in October 2012 to 225 now. We aim to reduce it to 150, which would be about the number of recommendations we make in a two to three-year period.

I am pleased that the government and my office are working cooperatively to reduce the number of outstanding recommendations. This report shows there are a considerable number of recommendations ready for our follow-up auditing. We will continue to use our judgement to allocate our resources to do both new and follow-up systems audits.

Our performance

On July 4, 2013, I sent my office’s own performance report for the year ended March 31, 2013 to the Chair of the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices and then we published it on our website. I have included our performance report in this October 2013 report because I believe that my office’s accountability is improved by making a direct connection between audit results and the cost of achieving those results.

October 2013 Recommendations

We conducted our audits in accordance with the Auditor General Act and the standards for assurance engagements set by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.

This report contains 12 new and three repeated recommendations to government. The repeated recommendations have been made because we do not believe there has been sufficient action taken to implement our previous recommendations.

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