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June 26, 2006
(Executive Council)

Premier reconfirms government�s commitment to strengthen
rules governing House of Assembly

In light of recent findings of the Auditor General into the finances of the House of Assembly, Premier Danny Williams today announced that his government will build upon the successful reforms already implemented since forming government.  The Williams Administration committed to transparency and accountability, and has demonstrated this commitment with several initiatives including passing the new Transparency and Accountability Act, Lobbyist Act and Access to Information legislation.

�During our government�s first session in the legislature, in addition to introducing several new pieces of accountability related legislation we also reinstated the Auditor General�s access to the financial statements of the House of Assembly,� said Premier Williams.  �I have always believed very strongly that government should be fully open and accountable to the people of the province, and this certainly includes the House of Assembly.  The Auditor General�s recent findings confirm that we took the right step, and though it resulted in some serious allegations that must be thoroughly investigated, I am satisfied that we are now on the right track to addressing deficiencies in the system.�

The Premier said he wants to build upon his government�s other initiatives to strengthen accountability.  For example, in addition to allowing the Auditor General into the House of Assembly in 2004, earlier this year the House of Assembly added a new position of chief financial officer in response to a demonstrated deficiency in financial practices.  Today Premier Williams committed to provide whatever additional resources are required within the House of Assembly and the departments of Finance and Justice to ensure proper checks and balances are in place.  Measures are already underway to immediately review and improve, in conjunction with the Office of the Comptroller General, internal controls and compliance related to all practices of the House of Assembly.

Premier Williams also said government will propose legislative amendments to the act governing the Internal Economy Commission (IEC) of the House of Assembly this fall.  The amendments will include legislating full access of the Auditor General to the House of Assembly, something that is currently still at the discretion of the IEC.  The Premier said he wants to enshrine this practice into law, so that future governments cannot change it without proper public scrutiny.  As well, government will propose that the House of Assembly budgetary and accounting processes be brought in line with those of government departments. 

�Our government is committed to ensuring that at the end of this process we have the most accountable and open rules and regulations in the country,� added the Premier.  �I am proud that our government laid the ground work for reforms early in our mandate and I look forward to strengthening the system so that the appropriate checks and balances are firmly in place and public confidence is restored.�

The Premier added that while allowing the Auditor General access to the House of Assembly has clearly been a fundamental turning point in ensuring accountability and public disclosure, recent events also underscore the need for a review of constituency allowances for Members of the House of Assembly.  While reviewing constituency allowances, overall compensation for MHAs will also be assessed.

�It is very important to periodically evaluate the compensation received by MHAs, including things such as constituency allowances, salary levels and pension benefits,� said Premier Williams.  �Obviously, it is critical that this be undertaken by a completely impartial individual and I have requested that Chief Justice Derek Green of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador undertake this review.  I have also asked the Chief Justice for an opinion as to the appropriate manner in which to preserve the democratic requirement to have an autonomous legislature, while also guaranteeing public accountability.  The review will be done on a go-forward basis and will not include a review of the Auditor General�s findings.�

The Premier noted that although the work is being done by the Chief Justice it does not constitute a judicial inquiry or commission; rather it is simply a review that will include an evaluation of best practices in other jurisdictions to provide government with advice on appropriate levels of compensation for MHAs.  Such a comprehensive review has not been completed in several years.

The Premier noted that the IEC is an autonomous body with representation from the Progressive Conservative and Liberal parties.  Any changes to the operations of the House of Assembly would require approval of the Speaker�s Office and the IEC, and Premier Williams said he will be instructing his caucus members to ensure appropriate measures are undertaken.

Media contact: Elizabeth Matthews, Office of the Premier, (709) 729-3960, (709) 351-1227,

2006 06 26                                                        10:45 a.m.

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