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Financial audit of TNRD spending will take longer than anticipated

By Jessica Wallace

Kamloops This Week

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District says its financial audit will take longer than initially anticipated, due in part to its scope being expanded, and that some information from the findings may be withheld for privacy reasons.

The regional district had hoped to release findings from a forensic audit by BDO Canada in September of this year. It is now expecting a final report in late October or early November.

TNRD CAO Scott Hildebrand told the board of directors last week, during its regular meeting, that the auditor is reviewing a “tremendous” amount of data and records. That data includes emails and expense reports. Part of the delay is due to the sheer amount of paper-based documents. Staff interviews are also part of the audit.

BDO Canada was hired by the regional district to review its financials in the wake of questions around spending at the TNRD under former CAO Sukh Gill. The questions came about following a KTW investigation into spending at the TNRD.

“The scope of the work has also been expanded, something we have always said could happen if recommended by BDO,” Hildebrand told the board on Sept. 23 in a short update.

TNRD manager of corporate services Deanna Campbell further explained to KTW that when an auditor begins digging, other questions may arise and “it takes them down perhaps another path.”

“Some of the other, related to expenses, are potentially expanding the scope to look at other additional financial-related records, not just expenses, and also looking at contracting and procurement practices,” Campbell said.

The scope is not expected to be expanded again.

During the board update, Hildebrand said a summary of the auditor’s findings will be made public. However, despite continued reassurance from day one that the process would be transparent, he hinted for the first time some of the findings may not be released for legal reasons.

At the meeting, Hildebrand said the findings would be made public “to the extent that we are legally able to, keeping in mind some of the limitations that we have around privacy legislation.”

Campbell said the regional district has not embarked upon a forensic audit before and most audit reports are not publicly released. She said that, while the regional district will strive to release what it can, the public body is bound by privacy legislation.

“The privacy legislation is a lot broader than just someone’s personal information, defined as you know, name and address,” she explained. “You have to look at whether or not something might be an unreasonable invasion of their privacy.”

Campbell said any time a board member or senior manager is acting in their professional capacity, it is not personal information and would be disclosed. But there is a section in the legislation that deals with information that might unfairly damage someone’s reputation.

“If there is anything in the forensic audit that might inform a law enforcement investigation or any potential legal proceedings, we can’t release that type of information because then you’re putting evidence out into the world that might be used in the future,” Campbell said.

“These are all things we don’t know yet because we don’t have the final report, but we’re just being mindful of that. We don’t want to say we’re just going to put it all out there to the world when we just might not be able to do that for legal reasons.”

In addition to the forensic audit, the RCMP’s serious crimes financial integrity unit is investigating after the TNRD reported to police information believed to be associated with criminality.

Contacted for an update, RCMP media relations officer Sgt. Kris Clark told KTW the investigation remains “ongoing.” Pushed on potential themes of the investigation, Clark would not comment.

“If it comes to a point where charges are laid, then that information comes to light,” he said.

Asked if the timing of the investigation might wrap up in time for the conclusion of the TNRD’s audit report, Clark said the two are separate.

“An audit could be completed and a report finalized from TNRD. Any announcement of charges, if any, could be months away,” he told KTW.

Asked if the audit information could help to inform the police investigation, he said it would be up to investigators.

As for whether the regional district has handed over any additional information to police since initial contact, Campbell said she could not comment due to the ongoing police investigation.

Campbell said an explanation would be provided as to the legal reasons for why some information may or may not be withheld.

“I’m quite confident and I think Scott [CAO Hildebrand] would agree that what we’re releasing publicly would be sufficient,” she said. “I don’t think that we’re going to withhold anything that is important for the public to know.”

The Kamloops Voters Society earlier criticized the regional district’s ability to remain at arm’s length from the financial audit process. It has since obtained expense-related documents outside the scope of KTW’s investigation to spending under the tenure of Gill, which was five years between 2015 and 2020.

“KVS continues to have concerns about the transparency of the process and the information disclosed and we’re looking to get to the bottom of this,” KVS member Randy Sunderman told KTW.

“We’d like to see no stones left unturned. It’s important to have all the facts on the table if you’re hoping to see good policy decisions made going forward.”

TNRD chair Ken Gillis said everything will be made available to the public that does not involve individual privacy concerns. As for who decides that, he pointed to Campbell and the TNRD’s legal counsel.

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