APTN National News
Auditors appointed by the department of Aboriginal Affairs have found that Manitoba Keewatinow Okimakanak (MKO) kept at least $1.9 million worth of federal training dollars that was supposed to flow to member First Nations, APTN National News has learned.
MKO represents 30 First Nation communities in northern Manitoba and is hosting the Assembly of First Nations election for national chief in Winnipeg. Some of MKO’s member First Nations are among the poorest in the country.
The federal department’s assessment and investigations branch asked KPMG in August to probe MKO’s books after it received allegations “that federal funding provided to (MKO) is not being used for its intended purposes.”
The probe, which covers financial information dating back to 2010, focused on the Manitoba chiefs organization’s use of funds from Aboriginal Affairs and Employment and Social Development Canada.
KPMG auditors have so far uncovered that $1.9 million from the federally-funded Aboriginal skills and employment training program (ASETS) never made it to MKO’s member First Nations. Member First Nations apply to MKO for the ASETS funding. The program provides training dollars to students looking to upgrade their education and find employment.
MKO Grand Chief David Harper confirmed that he and the chiefs executive were informed of the $1.9 million discrepancy last Tuesday. Harper said problems with the program date back to before his time as grand chief when the program was run under a different name.
“We need to really fix the whole thing,” said Harper, in an interview Monday evening. “It goes as far back, nobody really wanted to touch it.”
Harper was elected as grand chief in 2009.
Harper said it’s unclear what happened to the money.
“We are trying to collect as much information as we can,” he said.
APTN National News has also obtained documents that shows Harper collected about $313,000 in salary, expenses and travel during the 2012-2013 fiscal year. According to the organization’s unaudited statement of earnings, Harper made $125,000 that year, billed $163,394 in travel expenses and $25,000 for meeting expenses.
The budget for the grand chief’s travel that year was $55,000 and there was no budgeted amount for meeting expenses.
Under an agreement with airline Calm Air, MKO member chiefs and the grand chief get free air travel between northern communities.
Harper said he hadn’t seen the document.
“All my chiefs travel for free, but you still have to drive to those communities and there are only certain flights,” he said. “You need to drive to the remote ones that are drivable.”
Harper said his salary has been reduced to $90,000 this year as a result of Ottawa’s budget cuts for First Nation organizations.
“We are not done yet, there is still more cuts coming,” said Harper. “My salary will probably be cut too, in another round.”
Harper survived a non-confidence vote in September.