Senior bureaucrats 'breaking the law': Yk Centre MLAHawkins in hot water after questioning minister about money for vacant jobs
Northern News Services
Published Friday, February 14, 2014
Allegations by Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins that senior government officials are 'breaking the law' by improperly transferring elsewhere unused funds budgeted for vacant jobs has got him on the hot seat once again.
Percentage of unemployment in the NWT
- 2001 - 8.7
- 2002 - 5.8
- 2003 - 7.0
- 2004 - 6.3
- 2005 - 5.4
- 2006 - 5.3
- 2007 - 5.6
- 2008 - 5.8
- 2009 - 6.1
- 2010 - 7.3
- 2011 - 7.3
- 2012 - 8.1
- 2013 - 8.2
Source: NWT Bureau of Statistics
Wednesday during discussion centered on the revelation that there are currently 1,151 vacant government jobs in the NWT.
Hawkins said he has proof that several unnamed deputy ministers in various government departments were using money approved in the budget for jobs for other projects within their departments.
"My view is they are actually breaking direction laid out by the legislature. In essence, it's tantamount, in my view, of breaking the law," he said.
Hawkins proceeded to ask Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger when he was going to fire those individuals for misspending the money.
In response, Miltenberger called a point of order on Thursday, after noting Wednesday that Hawkins' comments were "very harsh, unfounded allegations of criminal wrongdoing."
"I think his hyperbolic statements, once again, don't add to the tenure of the debate and they cause confusion in the public, and his draconian request for human sacrifice based on his state of high dudgeon is not helpful," said Miltenberger.
It's the third time in the past five months Hawkins has been called to account by the speaker of the legislative assembly for causing offense.
Given the chance to explain himself on Thursday, Hawkins proceeded to say he could clarify his comments if only he could make information, which is currently being withheld by cabinet, public.
"We could clear all these comments off if the government would simply offer sanction and confirm the witness statements made at the in-camera meeting on Feb. 11," he said. "All we need is cabinet's approval to bring this before the house."
Deputy speaker Jane Groenewegen said a ruling on the latest point of order would be made a later date.
During yesterday's session, Miltenberger explained that funds allocated for jobs are sometimes reallocated within the department.
Under the Financial Administrative Act, departments are allowed to reallocate up to $250,000 worth of funds which have been previously allocated toward a specific item in the budget.
"Managing those vacancies is a legitimate government management tool that's used in every corporation." he said.
He added each department is required to provide detailed monthly reports of all adjustments, transfers and expenditures to the Department of Finance.
"This includes transfers between expenditure categories, such as compensation and benefits, materials and supplies and grants and contributions," he said.
The finance minister is also legally required to table a list of transferred funds exceeding $250,000 before the legislative assembly during each session.
According to Miltenberger, the government is actively recruiting to fill 571 of its 1,151 vacant jobs, 301 of which are based in Yellowknife.
Of those 571 jobs, 325 require university degrees, said Tom Beaulieu, minister responsible for human resources. He added 97 per cent of people with university degrees are currently employed in the territory. On top of the 571 jobs the government is recruiting for, Beaulieu said 161 vacant jobs have been declared either dormant or inactive.
"It causes people to wonder how the government can function with 20 per cent of its jobs unfilled," said Hawkins.
The vacancies came to light at the same time as the government announced unemployment in the NWT recently reached its highest rate since 2001.
As of last December, unemployment in the territory was at 8.2 per cent - up from 7.3 per cent two years ago.
"Those ... jobs could do a great deal to help fill that unemployment," said Hawkins.
The government launched an initiative to advertise its jobs online on a careers website last year. However, there are only 120 jobs currently being advertised on the government's website.
"Why are these jobs being kept relatively secret?" asked Hawkins. "I can tell you that some people have been on that website and they feel like they are being slapped in the face."
On top of being concerned about the number of vacant jobs, MLAs have been wondering where the money allocated for those positions is going.
"We approve these jobs in the budget but they're not being filled. What happens to these dollars?" asked Inuvik Boot Lake MLA Alfred Moses.
"Where is it going if it's not employing people?" added Hawkins.
Beaulieu said although they appear in the budget, dormant positions are not actively funded.
He said vacant jobs are often filled in the short term by casual labour or summer students. He added that funds for vacant jobs are often used to pay overtime to people who perform additional duties.
"Even though the job is vacant, the work still needs to be done," he said.
Hawkins has requested a breakdown of where the vacant jobs are located and where the funds for those jobs is being diverted.
Miltenberger, who announced a plan to attract 2,000 new workers to the territory over the next five years during his budget address last week, assured the assembly that once produced, the numbers will prove funds are not being misappropriated.
"We will be able to lay out adequately, I believe, where all those position are," he said.