July 9, 1999 Halifax Herald
Government to blame for band council problems
Government to blame for band council problems
Since a June 17 story “Native corruption covered up - Paul” appeared in these newspapers, several questions have been sent my way which, I'll now endeavour to answer:
First and foremost, First Nations need a new funding system because the present system, with its anything-goes rules, has proven totally inadequate. The atmosphere of corruption it begets tars all Natives with the same brush. I've been asked so often by non-Natives, after an alleged incident of Band Council corruption hits the headlines, "are all your people into the cookie jar" that I no longer respond. They truly believe we created the mess.
The truth, however, is that the loose financial system, which has caused so many band members and members of the general public alike to believe that band governments are rife with corruption, was created and imposed upon band councils by the Department of Indian Affairs. Accordingly, the full blame for the shortcomings of the system and the negatives derived from it lies not with us, but on the doorstep of the Department. I'll explain why.
In reality, there is very little blatant Band Council corruption. The reason for this startling statement is that under the loose rules laid out by Indian Affairs for expenditure of public funds by Band Councils, there are very few things which could be construed as misappropriation. The rules are so wide open that Band Councils can use public funds for practically anything, including paying themselves hugh salaries, double-dipping, etc.
Without question the Department's loose system has created a cloud of suspicion over all Bands. Brent DiBartolo, Assistant Deputy Minister Indian Affairs, gave credence to such a charge when he responded to a reporter's question about accountability by stating that Indian Affairs continues to do everything possible to improve accountability and investigate allegations of wrongdoing. After the passage of approximately 35 years, the Department is still trying to "improve" accountability? Get real.
I'll now lay out how the present situation developed. In the late 1960s, the Department got into the devolution-of-programs-to-bands mode. In plain English, it began to use band councils as agents to deliver social programs to band members.
The devolution process was undertaken in a most incompetent manner. The Department did not require Bands to adopt band constitutions or by-laws to govern expenditures. Such should have been mandatory before any were empowered to manage public funds. Thus, from the beginning, Band governments had nothing to use as guides except Departmental rules prepared by amateurs. In contrast, federal and provincial governments have the Constitution to direct how they manage the country, and municipalities have charters to guide their affairs. Exempting Band governments from this legal necessity was irresponsible, to say the least.
This lack of a legal basis for Band Councils to operate under, coupled with the fact that funds are largely delivered to them via the expedience of mostly unenforceable contracts, has left members of bands with practically no modes of recourse for the resolution of their complaints, other than the less-than-esteemed bureaucrats of Indian Affairs.
The bureaucrats claim that they impartially investigate such complaints. I can state with conviction that every time they utter this nonsense, that band members from Newfoundland to British Columbia break out in peals of laughter. Imagine the outfit which made the rules and created the present mess undertaking to investigate what it has caused. Expecting complainants to trust them is incredible!
Why are band audit statements not released for public review? The Department claims, based on a 1988 Supreme Court of Canada ruling which held that these documents were not for public scrutiny, that it cannot do so (too bad it doesn't adopt the same attitude when it comes to Supreme Court cases which enhance our Aboriginal rights. When this happens, they circle the wagons and impede the decisions every step of the way). If the Department had desired, it could have found a mechanism to get around the ruling the same year that the court handed it down.
As executive-director of the Confederacy of Mainland Micmacs at the time, I would have fully supported such a move because it is not in the best interests of band self-government to keep secret what all other levels of government in Canada are required by law to make public, especially when most Bands have nothing to hide.
In any event, I believe that the Department has the most interest in keeping band financial operations under wraps. I can state unreservedly that the Auditor General and the public at large would take fits if they were fully appraised of what the Department has permitted to develop. One of the first observation that would bring a torrent of questions; is why are so many band audit statements qualified by audit firms? The department would be battered.
For the federal government to hold us to a lower level of accountability than that to which other Canadians are held is, at best, sick paternalism; at worst, it could be construed to be a gross racial affront motivated by white supremacist thinking. It insultingly questions our intellectual capacity. I unequivocal state: We are not intellectual inferiors; therefore, apply to us the same standards of accountability applied to everybody else!
Daniel N. Paul