Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 20, 2003
We paid for his $444 free lunch
The continuing scandal involving former federal privacy commissioner George Radwanski will long leave a bad taste in the mouths of Canadian citizens. It is good that a House of Commons committee took issue with Radwanski's financial abuse, that Radwanski resigned from his position, that the auditor-general was called in to investigate and that the RCMP is now conducting its own investigation. In the mind of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, it's a sign that the system works.
Well, the system may work, but, in this case, it only started to work once Radwanski's wild spending habits were made public and the public was outraged. Until then, as Auditor-General Sheila Fraser charges, the Treasury Board and the Public Service Commission were well aware of what was happening in the office of the privacy commissioner and did nothing to stop it.
To refresh your memory - if you have somehow forgotten - Radwanski and his favourite employee Dona Vallieres spent $147,000 in international travel in 2002-03.
In three years, they went on 17 international trips, conducting no public business on 25 of the 58 days they were out of the country on the public purse. They spent $330 on a hotel room to freshen up after the exhausting two-hour plane trip from Ottawa to Washington. They spent $444 on lunch for two. They took an $800 limousine ride from Ottawa to Montreal, even though Radwanski had his own chaffeur-driven car.
When their travel budget was over-spent by last December and he was told to curtail office travel, he began using the office research and computer systems budgets to fund his trips.
Radwanski hired his son's girlfriend for a job, without considering other candidates, and paid her 50 per cent more than he should have. He hired his acquaintances to top-level jobs in the privacy offices and gave them raises and bonuses far outstripping the public service norm.
Perhaps the most vexing thing was that Radwanski was allowed to clear up $557,000 in back taxes only days before he got his plum appointment by making a payment of $62,726. Revenue Canada never bothered to inform the prime minister's office of this cozy deal that neither you nor I would have gotten if our taxes had been in a similar state.
It's easy to view this mess as one bureaucrat abusing the system while most civil servants are hard-working and do not enjoy similar latitude with their expense accounts.
But that is to ignore Revenue Canada's silence over Radwanski's sweetheart tax deal.
It is to ignore the fact that the Public Service Commission knew about hiring abuses in the privacy office in 2001 and chose to remain silent. And it is to ignore that the Treasury Board did nothing about gross overspending in the office.
Radwanski's wanton spending amounts to only the smallest fraction of the federal government's budget. But the issue is much more important than the actual dollar figures.
For when one taxpayer sees $444 being spent on lunch for two, that person is entitled to ask how long it takes him or her to earn enough money to pay the taxes that paid for that meal. That taxpayer is also entitled to recall the last time that he or she spent $330 on a hotel room to freshen up.
And when taxpayers see their money squandered in such a fashion - and the federal offices that are supposed to monitor government spending turning a blind eye - they can only lose their trust in the government.
Government is supposed to be the protector of the people. It is supposed to be our institution that promotes the common good and protects against private gain.
We expect civil servants to be servants - to make their personal interests secondary to those of society. We have a right to expect to see tangible signs of sacrifice by those employed by the state.
Now, we are left with a sense of being cheated, a sense that will not go away simply by making one man the subject of an RCMP investigation. The whole system - root and branch - needs to come under scrutiny in order to ensure that service is the cornerstone of government and that the common good will never be forgotten.
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