By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Chiefs on the executive council for Manitoba Keeewatinowi Okimakanak met Thursday to discuss the temporary removal of Grand Chief David Harper while the organization faces a full forensic audit.
The Winnipeg-based firm conducting the forensic audit recommended Harper be put on paid temporary leave during the forensic audit of MKO’s books and those of its subsidiaries. In a letter obtained by APTN National News sent to MKO’s interim executive director Tuesday, firm Lazer Grant said Harper posed a threat to the audit.
MKO represents 30 northern Manitoba First Nations communities and many are among the poorest in Canada.
Chiefs in attendance at an MKO general meeting last week in Norway House passed a resolution calling on Harper to take a voluntary leave until the audit ends. The chiefs also called for the forensic audit into all of MKO’s finances.
Harper, however, said he wouldn’t be stepping aside and planned to clear his name. The embattled grand chief has at least one prominent backer in his corner. Former Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs grand chief and current Norway House Chief Ron Evans wrote a letter to Lazer Grant Tuesday requesting the firm puts a hold on the audit until after Thursday’s executive council of chiefs meeting.
“I am advising you to place any further actions on hold,” said Evans.
In an interview with APTN National News, Evans said he wasn’t trying to stop the audit, but he said chiefs need to make sure the organization will not put itself into a problematic legal situation before plunging ahead.
“I think the audit should happen, but I think the process and the manner needs to be clearly defined as to how we move forward on that,” said Evans. “There’s a way to do things and there’s a way that will get us into trouble and it’s always a good thing to try and if you’re going to do something, do it right.”
Harper could not be reached for comment.
Evans has faced his own controversy over the handling of funds when he was grand chief of the AMC.
APTN National News reported last June that under the leadership of Evans AMC drained a charity created for First Nation education by using it as a piggy bank to cover its debts. As a result, the Canada Revenue Agency revoked the charitable status for The First Nations Education Trust Fund which set up to finance bursaries for First Nation students and promote education around issues like treaties
MKO’s financial situation, however, appears to be far worse.
Harper is facing serious allegations of financial mismanagement and using MKO funds for personal purchases like guitars, flights for his girlfriend and car repairs. Harper has said he paid back all his personal expenses.
Documents obtained by APTN National News show MKO was warned by an outside auditor that the federal Aboriginal Affairs department could put the organization into co-management or third –party management if it didn’t get its spending under control, especially around travel and consultants.
MKO’s accumulated deficit for the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2013, hit $976, 025. MKO also accumulated an operating deficit of $609,058 by March 31, 2013, which was a 71 per cent increase over the previous year’s operating deficit of $356,108.
MKO, which received a denial of opinion from an auditor because it lacked proper accounting of its spending, was also warned to include a paper trail around its credit card use.
Harper has also been accused of obstructing the forensic audit, which has been unfolding since last year. He denied obstructing the audit. Harper has also faced criticism over his plan to sell clan membership to sponsors as a way to raise money for the AFN election which MKO is hosting in Winnipeg this December.
–with a file from Ntawnis Piapot