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New measures in place to curtail fraud, Newfoundland and Labrador English School District says

Auditor General Julia Mullaley speaks at a news conference Wednesday in St. John’s about her report, “Management of the Procurement of Goods and Services: Newfoundland and Labrador English School District.”
Newfoundland and Labrador Auditor General Julia Mullaley’s investigation into the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District found multiple examples of fraud by district employees. – Joe Gibbons file photo/The Telegram

It’s that time of year to get the vehicle tires changed over and the board of trustees of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) wants to make sure no one gets free winter tires on the district’s tab.

In September, provincial Auditor General Julia Mullaley released a two-and-a-half-year investigation of allegations of fraud within the ranks of the NLESD that found plenty of examples of fraud between 2011 and 2016. It wasn’t just snow tires, but free snowclearing, $735 wheelbarrow rentals, $3,320 laser levels and more.

The report outraged school councils and people in the province.

The board of trustees held a special all-day working session on Saturday to discuss Mullaley’s report.

“As I indicated during a news conference on Sept. 12 — the day the report was made public — the board of trustees takes the report very seriously,” board chair Goronwy Price said. “(The) working session was an opportunity for trustees to discuss the recommendations, the actions that have been taken over the past number of years, and further actions that must be taken to ensure financial accountability and oversight. It is clear we must request the resources required to implement the auditor general’s recommendations and mitigate the risk of fraudulent activity in the future.”

Mullaley said in her report that the alleged fraudulent activity came after an investigation of the facilities branch of the NLESD, which employs between 10 and 12 people.

The 62-page report is overflowing with suspicious purchases by the district's facilities department.

In one example, buyers for the district approved the purchase of 67 tires, costing $14,214, and three tire installations at $220. The makes and models of the tires purchased did not match up with any vehicles owned by the NLESD.

“We observed many known indicators of unethical behaviour and possible fraud, including expenditures for goods and services that were not properly authorized or reviewed,” Mullaley said.

The report referred a number of matters to police to help in their investigation.

“The board of trustees has made financial accountability a key focus of its 2017-2020 Strategic Plan, with specific commitments to improved purchasing processes and approval procedures, better inventory controls and improved financial management procedures,” Price said. “The board has also introduced a new internal audit policy that demands higher transparency and accountability to the public, a conflict of interest policy for employees, and a risk management policy.”

Operational changes made over the past two years include the expansion of the district’s internal audit division, tighter purchasing procedures, financial training and ethics training to address the auditor general’s finding of a workplace culture that allowed certain attitudes and activities to go unchecked.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, the district held elections for the executive committee of the board. The members are: chair Goronwy Price, vice-chair Wayne Lee, and board members Lester Simmons (Labrador), Scott Burden (Western), Winston Carter (Central) and John Smith (Avalon).

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