A former Comptroller General and Auditor General of B.C. said nobody ever raised a concern about ex-Clerk Craig James’s spending to him.
Arn van Iersel, who later worked as an advisor to the Legislative Assembly, said “that never came up.”
“I wasn’t even aware of it, except for the special retirement allowance,” he testified Feb. 8 in B.C. Supreme Court under cross-examination by James’s lawyer, Gavin Cameron.
That’s because it appeared in the auditor general’s 2013 management letter that questioned why the amounts paid to four officials were not shown in public accounts, he said.
James is charged with fraud and breach of trust stemming from expense misconduct found by Darryl Plecas, who was the speaker from 2017 to 2020. One of the charges is about taking a nearly $258,000 “long service award” payment under a program that had been discontinued. James has pleaded not guilty to all five counts.
Van Iersel concluded in a 2007 report that the Legislative Assembly’s financial framework was “sound,” but still needed strong controls. Even though it was small compared to Crown corporations, it was still a $50 million operation.
Van Iersel was the predecessor to John Doyle, who issued a scathing report in 2012 about the lack of financial reporting in the Legislative Assembly, the year after James was appointed Clerk by the BC Liberal caucus.
Van Iersel agreed with Special Prosecutor Brock Martland that public confidence matters, because “once you lose confidence in a major part of an organization, you start to question the ability of the organization to do its job and what the problem is.”
He said Plecas’s 2019 report raised significant issues and questioned the creditability of the office of the clerk.
Martland asked whether the pace of change and reform changed after the Plecas report.
“Over my time there as a consultant, it did change,” van Iersel said. “Because of the early auditor general observations, there is a plan, there is an incentive, a desire to meet all those requirements to involve them.”
Van Iersel said the 2012 auditor general report also had an impact, causing the Legislative Assembly Management Committee to “make sure that their credibility was restored.”
With the release of the Plecas report, “it picked up again, making sure that the issues were being addressed.”
Van Iersel said the involvement of the all-party LAMC was not as strong as it should have been, in terms of a governance role.
“LAMC needs to act more like a management board, which, as I already said, the auditors said start with a set of financial statements. That’s not the end of it. They need to be more involved,” he said. “And that’s why we created the finance and audit Committee. My understanding now is that additional committees, subcommittees are being created under LAMC, to deal with not only financial issues, but personnel and so on and so forth.”
The trial continues before Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes.
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