Audit flags spending irregularities on Cote First Nation

Chiefs demand treaty promises be fulfilled as “health crisis” grips three First Nations Onion Lake Cree Nation ordered to post financial docs online A member of the Cote First Nation says the results of a forensic audit back up long-running concerns around alleged mismanagement of band funds.Stanley Cote said a Deloitte audit, delivered to the current band chief and council on July 26, has its roots in the First Nation’s 2016 election.He said many people in the community had become concerned about a lack of progress on housing and youth programming in the years after the band was awarded about $130 million in a 2012 land claim settlement.“Nothing was happening on the reserve for housing, for programs for the youth, for adults, for the elders. There wasn’t much being done to help our First Nation.”Cote said this eventually led to calls to replace several councillors and former chief Norman Whitehawk.Story continues belowThis advertisement has not loaded yet,but your article continues below.Nine of 12 council positions went to new people after the 2016 vote. Whitehawk did not seek re-election and was replaced by current Chief George Cote.The new council hired Deloitte to do a forensic audit looking at the period from June 2012 to February 2018.The auditors’ report, a copy of which was obtained by the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, outlines instances when money appeared to be paid out with little accountability.Cote said he is hopeful that band members will keep calling for accountability and transparency as the First Nation prepares for another election to be held at the end of August.Travel expenses were one area of concern flagged in the audit. The report authors wrote that they found cases where expenses were paid out far in excess of estimated costs for the travel. In one case, the First Nation reportedly paid for 10 people to attend an Assembly of First Nations event held in Whitehorse, Yukon in 2013. The auditors found each individual was given a $5,168 travel allowance. Supporting documents suggested the figure was determined based on the cost of driving by motor vehicle from Kamsack, Sask. to Whitehorse, a distance of about 2,900 kilometres, requiring more than 30 hours of travel. The auditors compared this to an estimated cost based on what were described as “reasonable assumptions,” including the use of air travel to make the trip. They found the First Nation had overpaid by roughly $2,300 per person. The report’s authors went on to note that no supporting documents were filed to confirm whether people who got payments actually attended the conference. The auditors also noted potential conflict of interest concerns surrounding payments made by the band.In one case, a parcel of land purchased by former chief Whitehawk in 2011 for $35,000 was sold to the First Nation in 2015 for $100,000. The auditors found no indication of a third-party valuation supporting the price the band paid. They also found Whitehawk had signed off on one of the band council resolutions (BCR) authorizing the payment.“Given that the BCR relates to the purchase of land from him at a price of $100,000, there would be an apparent conflict of interest with Whitehawk signing the document,” the authors noted. The report detailed salary, benefit and expenses packages totalling well into the six-figure range for many involved in the First Nation’s leadership during the period covered by the audit.Cote noted that during the audit period, conditions on the First Nation were deteriorating. In 2016, Cote was one of three Yorkton-area bands to sign on to an open letter to the federal and provincial governments declaring a crisis around addictions, mental illness and chronic diseases.“We’re freaking millionaires. No one on Cote First Nation should be hurting,” he said.Neither former chief Whitehawk, nor any current members of the band council or anyone from the band office could be reached for comment. A notice on the First Nation’s website indicates the band office is closed until Aug. [email protected] read more