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BC legislature keeps 'messy' financial statements: auditor general

VANCOUVER - British Columbia's Speaker of the House has accepted blame after the auditor general panned the legislature Thursday for keeping "messy" financial records full of "substantial irregularities."

But Bill Barisoff also said he's been actively overseeing a clean-up of the accounts over the past year, and so was caught off-guard by the harsh review.

"From our perspective, we're a little bit surprised," Barisoff said in an interview.

"It gives the indication that we have been doing absolutely nothing. Have we done it as quick and as efficiently as we might have -- should have? No. Could we have done better? Probably. Are we doing a lot of things? Yes."

Barisoff, a Liberal MLA who has been Speaker for eight years, oversees an $83 million budget that covers the salaries of all legislative members, as well as operational costs.

His office was first notified by Auditor General John Doyle in 2007 that the legislature needed to bring its accounting practices in line with Canada's generally accepted standards.

Doyle released a statement Thursday that said the Legislative Assembly is falling short of basic financial management practices that have been heeded by other sectors of the provincial government.

"The audit identified a large number of significant and serious issues. As a result, I am unable to conclude as to whether the amounts recorded in the financial records we examined are correct," Doyle said. "I recommend that the Legislative Assembly take immediate steps to address numerous deficiencies identified within the audit."

Barisoff said his office has already been taking steps to address the problems.

That includes working with a former auditor general to figure out how to implement Doyle's recommendations, hiring another person to work in the controller's office and bringing in the firm Deloitte for more assistance getting things in order.

As a result of Doyle's report, they will also likely speed up the hiring of one more individual who can do an internal audit, he said.

Barisoff said he expects the issues can be rectified by April 2013, which is the end of the budget year.

The scathing review was released a day after Doyle also took aim at the provincial finance ministry, when Finance Minister Kevin Falcon's released the latest public accounts. The auditor said the government understated the deficit by $520 million.

Falcon has disagreed with the assessment, saying B.C. has followed accounting practices used across North America and is on track to balancing its budget by 2013-2014.

Tamsyn Burgmann reports for The Canadian Press.

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