The Columbia Valley’s two First Nations bands are split in their reactions to the bill recently introduced by the Harper Government in the House of Commons on November 23.
Bill C-27, the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, will require that all First Nations publicize their annual audited financial statements and schedule of salaries — including wages, commissions, bonuses, fees, honoraria, dividends and expenses — paid to chiefs and councils on their websites and retain them for ten years, as well as provide these documents upon request to any of its members within 120 days — or risk losing federal funding. The documents will also be published on the website of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
The bill was passed by the House of Commons on November 27 and has moved onto the Senate, despite criticism that it’s a hypocritical move that will increase already burdensome reporting requirements that some First Nations do not have the internal capacity to comply with.
“In 2006, the Conservative government introduced the Federal Accountability Act to strengthen accountability and increase transparency and oversight of federal government operations,” said Member of Parliament for Kootenay-Columbia David Wilks in a government release. “This landmark bill builds on that commitment and asks no more of First Nations leaders than Canadians ask of their Parliamentarians.”
According to the release, First Nation governments are the only governments in Canada that do not have legislated requirements to make basic financial information available to the public and Bill C-27 ensures that First Nation leaders are held to the same standard of accountability and transparency as other levels of government in Canada.
“This bill is business as usual for the Akisqnuk First Nation,” said Akisqnuk First Nation Communications Co-ordinator Adrian Bergles in an email. “The band’s audited consolidated financial statements have been available for viewing to the membership of the Akisqnuk First Nation for years.”
The portion of the band’s audited financial statements relating to its federal funding has been posted online by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, but excludes the band’s own source revenue, Bergles said.
“I don’t think that the money that we get elsewhere coming in here should be reported,” Shuswap Band Chief Paul Sam told The Valley Echo. “I won’t release it until it becomes law — I think a lot of bands are kicking against that.”
He said the Shuswap Band pays over $107,000 for an audit, and that what the federal government funds them for an audit amounts to barely $3,000.
“So why should we give them all that information? Give me $107,000 and I’ll give you all the information you want.”