Recently, I have received a number of inquiries on the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. In large part, the comments have been raised over the financial disclosure (as required under the law) that a chief from the Kwikwetlem First Nation in B.C. received over $914,000 in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
Further commentary occurred this week when it was reported that if elected to government, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada would scrap the new First Nations Financial Transparency Act.
The bill was opposed by the Liberals in the House of Commons. This leads to the question: what is the First Nations Financial Transparency Act?
A brief summary of this act, which recently came into force, is that it requires First Nations to publicly disclose consolidated financial statements that include financial information on how much individual community leaders are paid, including expenses.
In short, First Nations administrations must report the same type of information that is publicly available from other levels of government.
Why the need to make this disclosure requirement a law? It should be pointed out that in some cases there are First Nations communities that have, for some time, voluntarily provided this information to band members.
However, in other cases, this information was unavailable and in some situations, band members were unsuccessful in having this information provided to them.
Some have suggested that this may dissuade interested band members from inquiring further out of fear of repercussion.
In these situations, the only recourse for a band member was to appeal directly to the minister of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
Rather than have the minister deal with such requests on an ad hoc basis, a more fair and balanced approach is to create a standard that applies equally across the board to ensure information can be easily found by band members.
Accountability is a basic principle of democratic governance and it is important for all elected officials to be held to account by the citizens who elect them.
Increased information through disclosure can also help provide clarity and put to rest allegations and rumours that may be unhelpful and not factual.
My thoughts on this legislation? As most will know, I support increased accountability; however, it is also important to recognize that while one chief is paid $914,000, in our riding, for example, the chief of the Lower Nicola Band was paid just over $25,000 during the same period.
It is also worth recognizing that some chiefs also serve as the band’s economic development officer — an added responsibility that may understandably increase annual compensation.
I have recently been asked whether or not elected officials should be allowed to serve as employees, particularly if they are the ones who are in charge of compensation as well as hiring. These are good governance questions for First Nations communities.
We should note that bands themselves have also become far more complex operations than many citizens may realize. For example, the Penticton Indian Band in the 2012-2013 fiscal period received federal funding in excess of $9 million to provide many critical services to band members.
As these are significant amounts with many services involved, increased accountability through the First Nations Financial Transparency Act is, in my view, helpful to provide more information for all involved.
Now that the First Nations Financial Transparency Act has come into force and some would prefer it was scrapped, I would also be interested in hearing your thoughts on this new legislation.
As always, I welcome all comments and questions on this or on other federal matters and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll-free at 1-800-665-8711.
Dan Albas is the member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla.