Public Accounts (27 March 2007)
From Public Accounts Committee Hansard
27 March 2007
Public Hearing: Environment
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Mr. Hart: — Yes. What percentage of the total fees . . . You mentioned sometimes there’s some overpayments, but I’m guessing more often than not there’s underpayments. Perhaps I’m wrong. But when the year-end corrections are done, what percentage of the total fees would those corrections represent? Like are we talking a lot, you know, 10 per cent or more or less? I wonder if you could give us some indication of how much money is outstanding, you know, at the end of the year.
Ms. Johnson: — If we were to look at the 2005 fiscal year for instance, the correction that was made on the Weyerhaeuser account was about 700,000. And as a per cent of the total forestry revenues that year that would have been less than 10 per cent, a little more than 5, more than 5 per cent but less than 10.
Mr. Hart: — Does the department have a policy or practice in place where perhaps some of the large forestry companies like Weyerhaeuser used to be . . . Did you do quarterly verifications or was there just an annual reconciliation done?
Ms. Johnson: — Just the annual reconciliation.
Mr. Hart: — You know, when you’re looking at $700,000 or perhaps sometimes more, you didn’t consider doing a quarterly reconciliation which would have kept the account more current and probably dealt with, you know, some oversights or mistakes on a more current basis and therefore making it much easier to do the reconciliation. Was that ever considered?
Mr. Parkinson: — Essentially the answer lies in the seasonality of the forest sector activities, whether they’re harvesting fall, spring . . . or fall, sort of late winter, summer-types of activities and when they go across the scaling assessment. So the seasonality makes it difficult to do anything more than an annual adjustment.
Mr. Hart: — Well I mean, if you have the bulk of the wood coming in during the winter months, it would seem that perhaps if that’s the first two quarters, perhaps even the semi-annual reconciliation may have been, you know, fairly logical and fairly easier to do. I mean, it’s just a suggestion that I would throw out. I realize that we don’t have the . . . Weyerhaeuser’s currently are . . . you know, that plant is not operating and so on. So I just thought, you know I’d throw that suggestion out and thanks for the information.
The Chair: — We don’t have a response.
Mr. Parkinson: — I wasn’t sure one was necessary. It was a suggestion and we’ve noted it.
Other committee members then asked questions. The following section begins at 48:46 in the video.
Mr. Hart: — Yes, thank you, Mr. Chair. I’d like to direct this question to the auditor. On page 193 there’s a couple of sentences that I would like some explanation on. On the second paragraph there’s a sentence that says, “Also, employees . . . [do] not . . . check for proper approval of invoices before paying them.” And then you refer to that, that same lack of procedure, I suppose, in the bottom paragraph.
I wonder if you could expand on what you had found, the lack of proper prior approval or proper approval. And are these kind of oversights and lack of adherence to established policy, are these the kind of things that were occurring at the time when the fraud was discovered? I wonder if you could comment on that.
Mr. Grabarczyk: — The reference being made to here, Mr. Chair, and members, is that there is an authority grid so certain individuals are authorized to approve invoices. And what our findings were is that there was invoices that were not being approved by the appropriate people.
And as far as our previous report, yes, there was instances of the same type of invoices occurring where there was not a proper approval.
Mr. Hart: — Are those practices occurring in that same area of the department as had occurred in the previous occurrences? Or is it widespread throughout the department?
Mr. Grabarczyk: — It’s in different areas.
Mr. Hart: — Okay.
Mr. Grabarczyk: — And I guess part of it, the department has been reorganized as well so that same unit does not exist in the same manner as it did back in 2005, 2004-2005, or even before that.
Public Hearing: Labour
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Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Chair. I wonder if you could just briefly explain . . . and I know you’ve done this before. But perhaps just to refresh the committee’s memory as to how you achieved these results, from going from a 26-month wait time to down to nine weeks, what practices did you put into place, and what changes did you make to achieve this much shortened wait time?
Ms. Halifax: — Thank you. There was three main processes that we implemented in April 2003. The first one, we had approximately 600 or over 600 files waiting for assignment to an advocate. We took those files and contacted each of the workers to ensure that they still required our service. As a result of that step, we closed somewhere over 200 files. The injured workers had taken the appeal on their own or they had decided not to go to appeal.
The second thing we did, I began a regular assignment to the workers’ advocates. Each advocate was given five new files every month. Prior to that the advocates had taken files as they felt they could work on the files, so we had a minimum number in assignment.
The third step was, we split the files into two categories: a brief service category and what we called the backlog. Brief service category were those files where the worker had not been to any level of appeal. In those cases we provided advice and information to the injured worker so that they could take the appeal to the board on their own. The backlog files were those files that were at the second level, final level of appeal. They included files where we felt that the workers were not able to take the appeal on their own to the first level. Those files were put into a backlog to await assignment to a worker’s advocate.
So as a result of those three steps, we had implemented that in April ’03, and by the end of ’04 we had reduced the wait time to 36 weeks from a high of 26 months. So we felt that those three steps are what did it.
Mr. Hart: — You mentioned that of the initial 600 files in April 2003, that 200 were closed, and you also mentioned that some of the workers had received help from other people, I guess, in advancing their case. And I would assume that in some cases the workers just didn’t seek any additional help or just dropped their request for coverage under the Compensation Board.
Could you give a bit of a breakdown of those 200 files? How many were just kind of, you know, just sort of went away as such, and how many of them were actually moved forward but with the help of outside advocates that are helping some injured workers even today?
Ms. Halifax: — I’m sorry, Mr. Hart, I don’t have that information here with me.
Mr. Hart: — Okay. Perhaps when we do the estimates, we can revisit that question. The auditor mentions that you have set clear performance expectations. Is it your goal to . . . Nine weeks, is that the target that you’ve set? And if so, is it acceptable to the people that you’re dealing with?
Ms. Halifax: — That is the maximum wait. I had looked at our statistics last week and the oldest file in our office now, or the one that came in the longest time ago, it was submitted February 20. So that’s approximately four and a half weeks ago.
So the wait is a maximum of four and a half weeks. Because the numbers coming in fluctuate, we had established a nine-week maximum as the wait. So there will be some times where the wait is nine weeks. I would like to keep it at four or four and a half weeks, and that remains to be seen if that will remain consistent.
Mr. Hart: — I’m sure the injured workers would agree with you to keep the wait time as short as possible because what happens — what I’ve seen by dealing with a number of injured workers — is that while they’re in this process, their lives are on hold. And, you know, in our lives perhaps four weeks go by quite quickly. But in their lives, it’s a long time. And plus the fact is once they access, once their file moves forward to the Compensation Board, there is sometimes can be quite a lengthy delay. Do you monitor the time that files take to move through the processes at the board? And if so, what are you finding on the average?
Ms. Halifax: — Yes. When we receive decisions from the Workers’ Compensation Board, those decisions are distributed or circulated within our office or within our branch. And I’ve noted that some of the decisions that we have received that were written up in late February, early March of this year, we had submitted those appeals to the board in August 2006. So in some cases there is a significant wait once it gets to the second level or final level.
Mr. Hart: — Well thank you for that because I’m sure I’ll be discussing those with the board but thanks for your information. Mr. Chair, I think that will be all the questions I have this morning.
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