Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Government Funding Accountability Mechanisms

Every time a finance minister deliberates over a pair of shoes, what to buy to express their view of the country’s best way forward, I am hopeful, hopeful that just once, there will be extended discourse on accountability mechanisms – you know, monitoring and reporting – I am always left with my hopes dashed. To be fair, the last conservative government at least attempted with the Accountability Act to give voice to the issue, the challenge is that substantive change to government operations has seen very little evolution. There is a massive requirement for real accountability, accountability that has ANY government policy subjected to a public mission statement, metrics and indicators that measure whether the mission statement has been met AND, MOST IMPORTANTLY, an independent assessment and reporting entity. I have lobbied government repeatedly to deliver this type of accountability, we focus attention on Senator miss-spending or other “nickel and dime” issues, “nickel and dime” compared to the billions of dollars government eats in wasted spending because, present reporting mechanisms have such a long and winding, ambiguous accountability cycle – there is just no resolution to the efficacy of spending for the public.

In business we have a “dashboard” to guide use, firstly, there is always the bottom line as a gross measure of performance – there is just no hiding from that. Secondly, in business we have key metrics and accompanying indicators that we use to measure performance. We also benchmark our performance relative to the norm or our peers, indicators like market share, gross margin, internal rate of return, return on assets – a nearly endless list ratios and measures are used to ensure our decision making is taking us on the right path. The quality of a decision can only be assessed if it is measured, if you can't measure you can't manage it. We need a dashboard for the Canadian public, so they have an objective measure of governance; presently we have no clear dashboard or clear communication of governmental performance.   

There needs to be a government entity that is at arm’s length from government that firstly has a narrow mandate analogous to The Bank of Canada, to at least, publish, or preferably, limit government spending to a an agreed ratio with GDP or some other metric – the key being to maintain government size and spending at optimum. Secondly, this entity would report to the Canadian public on the efficacy of government spending against a fully declared policy mission, metrics and indicators and reporting in a clear and standardized manner.

The primary impediment to this dream coming true is; any incumbent government that institutes a measure such as this incur a disadvantage, because of the variance of accountability relative to past accountability mechanisms. The best means for implementation is nonpartisan development and deferred implementation – participants are always better at developing policy absent immediate effect.

This is in no way a left or right issue, this is an issue of universal concern; regardless of what size you believe government should be, or the degree of spending you want government to do – we should all want to know government funds are used wisely – we have no idea now.      

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