Attawapiskat must pay Ottawa appointee $1,300 a day
Published Thursday, December 8, 2011 11:12PM EST
The federal government's hiring of a third-party auditor to pore over the books in Attawapiskat will cost $1,300 each day in salary -- money that will come out of the impoverished First Nation's already tangled finances.
The manager will continue to audit band finances until the end of June, meaning the total contract for accounting will cost the community $180,000.
NDP MP Charlie Angus decried the decision in Parliament on Thursday, accusing the government of mishandling the file and further punishing the people of Attawaspikat at a time when the community needs blankets and heaters.
"How in God's name is that value-for-money?" asked Angus, who is the local MP for the remote, northern Ontario village.
Responding, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan again repeated that the federal government has invested $90 million in Attawaspikat since 2006, with disappointing results.
"It's clear that significant investments in the community have not resulted in advancing the standard of living of the residents," said Duncan, adding that the government must remain accountable to taxpayers.
Duncan noted that the government is taking "concrete action" to ensure that the community is prepared for the long winter, adding: "We are determined to get results for First Nations."
But an expert on indigenous affairs and a former legal councillor said that third-party management is a common political tool used by the federal government.
"And of course for First Nations, that third-party management is known as a budgetary death sentence," said Pamela Palmater, who is the head of Ryerson University's Centre of Indigenous Governance.
"You don't just one day suddenly put someone in third-party, it's something that's worked on with the First Nation. It's clearly for political reasons," she told CTV's Power Play.
"And of course the band pays the tab, so whether or not the third-party is doing a good job, they have to pay that amount and it's not going towards building houses, it's not providing food, water, sewers."
More troubling is that many contractors get nervous they won't be paid, since funding could dry up.
"So then they start putting locks on houses that are almost made, to make sure they're getting paid."
While the known costs for the auditor are $1,300 daily, that sum could rise significantly once travel and other expenses are factored in, said Grand Chief David Harper, of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. In fact, Harper suggested that the final tab could be about $300,000.
He said the purpose of third-party management is focused on correcting issues like proper housing or infrastructure, but simply to balance the books for Indian Affairs.
Meanwhile, thousands of people in the community still lack running water.
"Third-party management is not there to bring in resources like more housing," he said.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper has defended the auditor and the fees paid out, and he added that the check-up is needed to ensure that tax money isn't going to waste.
"We're investing ... additional hundreds of thousands of dollars in emergency services to make sure people are being taken care of," Harper said.
"The people of that community and the wider taxpayers of this country have an absolute right to ensure that that money is being used and being used effectively, and that is what we are doing."
With a report from The Canadian Press