The Government of Alberta has recently brought in a new expense disclosure policy to be executed in all agency and commission boards across government, including the University of Alberta.
In an effort to create a more transparent and open government, Premier Alison Redford has implemented this new policy to disclose greater information on expenses. While post-secondary institutions such as the U of A do not strictly fall under these categories, the government is still pushing for the adoption of the policy.
“The premier made a statement encouraging everyone to adopt the policy, but beyond that it’s going to be up to the agencies, boards and commissions to take their initiatives and to raise the issue in front of their government structure to take a look at it closely,” said Don Scott, Associate Minister of Accountability, Transparency and Transformation (Service Alberta).
The policy was announced at the beginning of September, to be put into practice at the beginning of October. It calls for providing expense reports every two months with more documentation on travel, accommodation, meal and hospitality expenses.
Marie Iwanow, communications spokesperson for the Ministry of Enterprise and Advanced Education, said the policy is not specific to the post-secondary system, but added the U of A would be expected to follow this policy just like all the others.
“I know all the post-secondaries, all the connected entities our Ministry is responsible for, the Minister has sent a letter to all of them and asked them to reply back to us with their response to the policy,” Iwanow said.
“We are confident they’re all in compliance, that they all want to be in compliance with the policy, based on the letters we’ve gotten back.”
One of the significant changes stated in the policy is that alcohol cannot be claimed and will not be reimbursed as part of travel or meal expense.
Vice-President (Finance and Administration) Phyllis Clark said the university’s expenditure disclosure practices are already very aligned with the new government policy, and they will be following suit in no longer covering personal alcohol expenses.
“We have a whole suite of policies about what people can put through for expenses,” Clark said.
“We looked at what the government had, and really we were very close to what they had.”
However, there are some disagreements from the university in the way documentation will be carried out. The new policy calls for reports to contain the name and position of the individual who made the expense, transaction amount and supporting documentation.
“If we’re entertaining a major donor, we don’t necessarily want that kind of information out, nor does the donor. So it would be difficult for the business within the institution — again, I don’t think it benefits the university,” Clark said.
“We know that we have to be good, and we have to be clear on taxpayers dollars and we have to be open on how we spend them, but if it’s going to make the university’s obtainment position more difficult, it seems to me to be counterproductive.”
Posting receipts online is also extensive and labour-intensive. Clark feels the money that would pay for new staff to carry out this duty could be better used elsewhere.
“To hire somebody to do that job doesn’t seem to me a lot of value added to the institution — (it’s) not going to help us with teaching and learning, and it’s not going to help us with research,” she said.
The university currently has specific auditing practices that also fall in line with expense disclosure. The next step in compliance with the new government policy will be to make the transition into posting disclosure information online starting in the new calendar year.
This will include more documentation on the expenditures of the U of A president, Vice-Presidents, Chair of the Board and other members of the board.
Until that point, talks will continue to be held with the government about some of the issues the university has with the policy to meet each side’s needs in the most beneficial way.
“The ultimate goal is to give Albertans confidence in government,” Scott said.
“This is just one more step to demonstrate to Albertans that we have a very open and transparent government.”
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