Say it ain't so Ronnie as article paints a bleak picture into government "job" and salary not earned.
Janice Tibbetts, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Ron Stewart, the former Ottawa football great, bilked taxpayers out of as much as $325,000 while he was Canada’s ombudsman for federal prisoners, doing virtually no work, says Canada's auditor general.
Stewart committed “serious abuses and wrongdoing, some of which resulted in substantial personal benefit,? wrote Auditor General Sheila Fraser, in a scathing audit released Tuesday covering only the last six of Stewart’s 26 years as the country's correctional investigator.
“I think what is the most troubling about this is that it went on for such a long period of time and that no one reported this,? Fraser told a news conference.
“People obviously had to have known what was happening. Obviously he was not at his office a lot, and received wages that he didn't work for. I find that troubling because this is an important office.?
Fraser’s report suggested the spending abuse happened for much longer than the period covered by her investigation and said a full review should be conducted of his tenure.
The auditor general, who said she’s asked the RCMP to investigate, noted her report pinpointed a full 319 days when Stewart played hooky on the job.
Stewart, who left the correctional investigator's office in 2003, also ran up a tab of $198,000 in improper payments and another $127,000 in questionable expenses from April 1, 1998, to March 4, 2004, she said.
He collected $83,000 in unearned salary, cashed out $95,000 in unearned vacation pay, spent $12,000 on non-business travel and hospitality, usually to cities hosting the Grey Cup, and billed $8,000 for computers for his family.
In all, Stewart claimed travel expenses for 16 trips and the auditor general could not find any evidence of work on 12 of them, for which he claimed $16,000.
Before becoming the federal correctional investigator in 1977, Stewart spent 13 seasons as a halfback with the Canadian Football League's Ottawa Rough Riders from 1958-70 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. He is now 72 and lives in the Ottawa area.
As well as regular trips to the Grey Cup, he also submitted claims to attend his high school reunion and a football Hall of Fame dinner.
On top of his clearly identified spending abuses, Stewart billed for another $127,000 in questionable payments for cashing out vacation that he claimed he never took, despite spending the majority of each summer, from April until October, at his cottage, located on an Ontario island about 90 minutes from Ottawa, which was accessible only by boat and had no electricity or land telephone line.
Although Stewart had a government cellphone, he was seldom reachable and his days on the island produced virtually nothing in the way of work, the report said.
“The former correctional investigator told us that he regarded his unreported absences as time-in-lieu of hours worked over and above the normal work week, on weekends, or for travel time,? said Fraser's report.
Although he never recorded a single vacation day, Stewart spent 258 days at his summer home, 10 days visiting cities hosting the Grey Cup and took regular Christmas and winter holidays.
“There was no justification for his absences. We could not find any record of visits to institutions, inmate investigations, meetings attended, or letter, notes, or reports or business telephone calls made during these absences.?
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, declaring the Conservative government has “zero tolerance for mismanagement of taxpayers’ dollars,? said the current correctional investigator, Howard Sapers, is taking steps to recover an unspecified amount of money from Stewart, who has already retained a lawyer.
Stewart, who approved all his own expenses, in violation of government policy, also submitted 80 hospitality claims to the federal government. Fraser concluded that 58 of the claims, worth about $5,000, were for entertaining friends, relatives and acquaintances.
During the years of the investigation, Stewart's office enjoyed healthy budget increases so that he could visit federal prisons to investigate complaints from prisoners. However, the report found Stewart rarely met with anyone on business and that senior managers in his Ottawa office of 27 employees never knew when their boss would show up at work.
Nevertheless, Fraser reported Stewart received $41,000 in bonuses, on top of his salary, during the period she audited. His published salary was in the range of $118,300 to $139,200 annually and he likely collected pay at the top of the scale, given the amount of time he was on the job.
Fraser's report also fingered senior staff in Stewart's office and the Public Safety Department for failing to question his spending. The Grey Cup games, for instance, should have raised a red flag.
“The former correctional investigator's flights to the cities hosting the Grey Cup championship were always booked months in advance,? the report said.
“They were not booked through the government travel agent. Football Canada or the Canadian Football League made the reservations for some of the airline tickets and hotel accommodations. Some invoices were made out jointly to the former correctional investigator and Football Canada or the Canadian Football League. Despite that (the Public Safety Department) paid the invoices without challenging them.?
Moreover, there was no evidence Stewart did any correctional business on his trips, despite reporting he was in each city “to investigate inmate complaints.?
“The former correctional investigator could not provide or remember any details about which inmate complaints he investigated, who he met, or what (office of the correctional investigator) business he undertook.?
The report said Stewart's staff also benefited from his abuses — he authorized $260,000 in phoney overtime payments to them over a three-year period. Fraser singled out the agency’s executive director for turning a blind eye.
“I think it is incumbent on any public servant, especially senior public servants, to report suspected cases of wrongdoing,? said Fraser, adding that she suspects a parliamentary committee will hold public hearings to get to the bottom of the matter.
The executive director has not been fired, said Day, but disciplinary measures may be taken.
The investigation was sparked by anonymous complaints to the auditor general's office after Stewart retired.
The revelations Tuesday sparked comparisons to former privacy commissioner George Radwanski, who resigned in June 2003 after it came to light he and his senior communications adviser claimed more than $500,000 in travel and hospitality expenses.
Fraser, while reluctant to compare the two cases, described them as “both equally troubling and both equally disappointing stories of how senior officials would conduct themselves in this manner.?