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Thefts lead to changes in how MLAs deal with constituency taxpayer money

Victoria Parliament buildings. - Ikiwaner - Wikimedia Commons
Victoria Parliament buildings.
— image credit: Ikiwaner - Wikimedia Commons

As the investigation continues into the alleged misappropriation of tens of thousands of dollars from Chilliwack MLA John Martin’s constituency office bank account, the government has announced changes to how that money is managed.

The Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Craig James, on Wednesday announced a move to a centralized accounting system to take the money out of local offices.

It was March 2 when Martin announced he had fired his constituency assistant after discovering money missing.

“I’m profoundly disappointed in what has happened as I believe we have an obligation to wisely manage taxpayer money,” Martin said.

The changes in Victoria, however, do not stem out of the incident at Martin’s office, rather Martin discovered the missing money while preparing for the new system to be implemented, he said.

What spurred the changes to be implemented in phases starting in May 2017 was the theft of more than $120,000 by the former constituency assistant of Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming over a six-year period.

For that theft, Marni Ruth Offman, 46, was given 18 months of house arrest as part of a two-year conditional jail sentence handed down on Wednesday in Victoria provincial court.

Offman was responsible for running Fleming’s office budget and taking care of nearly $120,000 of taxpayer money each year. An investigation found she had altered nearly 200 cheques. She also fraudulently cashed blank cheques pre-signed by Fleming.

In a press release issued Wednesday, the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly said that on Dec. 1, 2016, a centralized accounting system for constituency office expenses for the next Parliament was approved.

“Under this model, members will continue to be responsible for their constituency office spending decisions and budgets, but the accounting for all constituency offices will be done by a central office within the Legislative Assembly,” the statement said. “This will allow constituency assistants and members to focus on serving their constituents.”

As for Martin’s constituency assistant, the Progress is not naming the individual at this time. Asked what stage the file was at, Chilliwack RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Mike Rail said he could only say the matter was under investigation.

Since 2013, the Legislative Assembly website posts quarterly reports on compensation, travel expenses and constituency office expenses for all MLAs at www.leg.bc.ca/learn-about-us/accountability. And since 2015, the website also posts scans of the individual receipts paid for out of the constituency offices.

In the latest release of information for the period of April 1, 2016 to Sept. 30, 2016, Martin’s total constituency office funded expenses totalled $45,829, a number third lowest out of 85 MLAs. Only Surrey-Panorama MLA Marvin Hunt and Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson spent less. The average expense total for all MLAs for the period was $58,595.

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