COLUMN: Oversight of your tax dollars

As many as 200,000 CERB applications have been red-flagged as possibly fraudulent

In my report last week, I referenced media reports on public servants being directed to ignore potential cases of fraud for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

It had been reported that potentially “200,000 (CERB) applications have already been “red-flagged” as possibly fraudulent because of dubious claims of past employment income and other factors.”

Since my report, it’s been additionally reported that even the CERB applications where applicants clearly did not meet the eligibility requirements, public servants have been instructed to ignore those facts and ensure the payments are processed regardless.

READ ALSO: COLUMN: Should we ignore fraud?

READ ALSO: COLUMN: Questions remain about benefit packages

The Liberal government’s response to these concerns has been to suggest that applications cannot be scrutinized in a timely manner and that all fraudulent claims will be clawed back.

Unfortunately, this response from the Prime Minister fails to recognize that public servants actively discovered these issues of non-compliance and in turn shared them with media organizations after having been told to ignore them.

In other words, it is possible to have integrity screening at the same time CERB applications are being processed.

The Prime Minister has made the political decision to ignore potential cases of fraud.

Why does this matter?

For every program this government has created, it has also created an eligibility criteria.

This process often results in some people not meeting that criteria and potentially falling through the cracks.

That is why it has been important for the government and opposition to work together to identify these areas so they can be addressed.

Fortunately because of that work, many of these cracks have been filled.

To ignore fraud will put some Canadians into a situation where the funds they received, but were not entitled to, will be clawed back.

This could happen at a future date where they might not have these funds available.

This can result in other benefit support payments being garnisheed, creating a new level of hardship.

In the case of CERB, there are now close to eight million people collecting this $2,000 monthly benefit.

The most recent Statistics Canada labour force survey showed that roughly three million people had become unemployed.

It was further reported that another 2.5 million people were working less than half their normal hours because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

This is a total of 5.5 million people who, based on the Liberal government’s CERB eligibility criteria, would potentially be eligible for the benefit.

With close to eight million people now collecting the CERB benefit, there is a considerable debate on why these numbers do not more closely reconcile.

Meanwhile our federal auditor general is reported as stating that a “lack of government funding has created significant technological, cyber security and staffing issues for the office, hampering his ability to fulfill his mandate.”

The office of the auditor general has requested additional funding of $10.8 million from the yet to be delivered 2020-21 federal budget.

My question this week: Do you believe there is enough fiscal oversight on how your tax dollars are being spent during this pandemic?

Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola. This riding includes the communities of Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Summerland, Keremeos, Princeton, Merritt and Logan Lake.

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