PEI Opposition calls for AG investigation of troubled Tourism Department

Contracts worth $4.2 million were handled improperly and the Deputy is tied to a rumored police investigation

Melissa MacEachern, former PEI Deputy Minister of Tourism in alleged conflict of interest over contracts (photo – CBC)

Updated 8 PM -Opposition Leader, Olive Crane has asked the Auditor Genera to make public all copies of contracts and letters involving the PEI government and the Tourism Research Centre, to determine if the former Deputy Minister of Tourism Melissa MacEachern was in conflict of interest.

“The Auditor General confirmed Tuesday that the former Deputy had signed many of the $4.2 million in contracts that had violated treasury board policies and the Financial Administration Act. Some of these saw large amounts of money paid up front without the work having been started and in some cases, not completed. Some of those contracts were verbal, some did not have the required signatures and many of the invoices for cheques had no explanation for the money paid out.” 

Crane said there are many serious issues that need to be addressed and noted that the Auditor General has confirmed that both the RCMP and Revenue Canada are carrying out investigations into the operations of the Tourism Research Centre and had been in contact with the Auditor General’s office.

Opposition Leader Olive Crane (photo Guardian)

“The Premier is ultimately responsible for ensuring that Treasury Board policies are adhered to and that there is no conflict of interest.

It is obvious that the Premier nor Treasury Board has fulfilled their obligations to the taxpayers of this province,” said the Opposition Leader.

Crane said she is pleased that the committee will be receiving the details on the contracts that were investigated by the Auditor General, since repeated requests for those contracts were refused by Tourism Minister Robbie Henderson during the spring session of the legislature.

“It appears that we are finally making headway and starting to get some answers about what has taken place in Tourism PEI, ” said Crane. “I will be very interested in seeing what information the Auditor General brings forward during the next meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.”

MacEachern is alleged to have paid invoices to her former direct report at UPEI, before her government appointment. He then, it is alleged, abstracted the money for his personal benefit and not that of the Tourism Research Centre at UPEI.

Canada Revenue (Income Tax) and the RCMP are investigating the UPEI professor among others.

The Charlottetown Guardian reported there is a direct tie-in between MacEachern and unnamed people at the Tourism Research Centre.

“Crane says she believes the fact MacEachern was seconded from the Tourism Research Centre (TRC) to work as a deputy minister for the Ghiz government placed her in a conflict situation when she was approving contracts and funding for her former employer.

“It raises, if that is indeed taking place, why the premier is not taking appropriate action on the behaviour of his deputy ministers,” Crane said.

During a meeting of the public accounts committee Tuesday, Younker revealed that some of the problems he highlighted in his 2012 report regarding certain contractual arrangements and payments issued by Tourism P.E.I. were made to the TRC and approved by MacEachern.

A letter signed by MacEachern outlining an arrangement worth $1.125 million over four years awarded to the TRC was submitted as a contract. Younker raised concerns about this arrangement because “the vast majority of minimum required standard treasury board clauses were not included” in this contractual agreement.

Younker also revealed two payments issued by Tourism P.E.I., which he flagged as problematic because there was no documentation to substantiate the work performed, were issued to TRC and approved by MacEachern. These payments totaled $44,000.

Crane was especially interested whether MacEachern was responsible for approving

$84,000 in payments that were made to an individual instead of the Tourism Research Centre .

The Canada Revenue Agency began investigating an employee of the research centre last February and the RCMP and Charlottetown city police also looked into similar allegations. Those preliminary probes have since closed.” Guardian.

By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

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