Winnipeg Free Press
JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Sheila North Wilson -Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) – at news conference Friday at the MKO offices to discuss the state of emergency after Thursdays fire that destroyed the Shamattawa First Nation Band Office.Sept 23, 2016 -(See story)
OTTAWA — Manitoba’s northern chiefs intend to hand over a forensic audit of the former grand chief’s expense claims to the RCMP.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson said the chiefs of the 30 northern reserves that make up MKO decided the best course of action is to ask the police to look at it.
She did not indicate when that will happen.
North Wilson said the audit will require MKO to repay money to the federal government. The audit looked at how MKO used federal funds for skills training programs.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) contracted KPMG to conduct the audit in September 2014 after the federal government received complaints about spending at MKO, which was deep in debt and highly fractured. The complaints included questionable expense claims for items such as guitars and car repairs. In addition, $1.9 million in federal funding was to have been disbursed to band councils for aboriginal skills and employment training — but wasn’t.
MKO finances have been under the microscope for more than four years. In 2013, several employees were placed on leave and the MKO executive ordered a forensic audit after concerns arose about mounting debt, expense claims from some staff and the salary paid to the finance officer.
MKO hired Winnipeg firm Lazer Grant to do the audit. Ultimately, the auditors told chiefs they couldn’t reach any conclusions because too much information was withheld from them. Laptops and smartphones from former staff had been wiped clean before being turned over.
In September 2014, just as INAC hired KPMG, then-grand chief David Harper faced a vote of non-confidence after being accused of hindering the Lazer Grant audit. He survived the vote, but in September 2015 he lost his bid for re-election, and North Wilson was elected.
A draft report from KPMG said about one-third of $450,000 in expenses claimed by Harper from 2010 to 2014 were supported with paperwork. The audit indicated some of the travel he claimed did not match up with cellphone records of his location at the time of the alleged trips. Harper has said he repaid any personal expenses. He could not be reached for comment Friday.
MKO is slowly digging itself out from a debt of nearly $2 million. North Wilson hired an outside consultant to review and provide recommendations on staffing and management practices at MKO.
Mathias Colomb First Nation Chief Arlen Dumas said Friday he supports the decision to ask the RCMP to look at the audit.
“It’s important we have full disclosure,” Dumas said. However, he said he doesn’t believe the final audit report is finished. The report is not yet posted on INAC’s audit website, and a request for a copy had not been met as of Friday.
Dumas had called for the non-confidence vote on Harper after his band didn’t receive $580,000 in skills training funds it was to get from the federal program.
Some of that money has since come through, but not all of it, he said.
Dumas said management within MKO is greatly improved and the individual chiefs have far more input over what happens with the organization since North Wilson took over.
MKO includes some of the most remote and impoverished communities in the country.