Auditor general reveals Dave Basi and Bob Virk defence could have cost additional $2 million
B.C. auditor general Russ Jones has proposed that the provincial government require people to waive solicitor-client privilege "for audit purposes" if taxpayers are going to foot their legal bills.
It's one of 10 recommendations arising out of Jones's just-released review of special indemnities covering private legal costs.
He also noted that the $6.4-million defence of Dave Basi and Bob Virk could have cost an additional $2 million.
That money was saved when the two B.C. Liberal ministerial aides pleaded guilty to lesser charges in 2010 in their corruption trial.
Halting the trial meant that 40 witnesses did not have to appear in court.
The auditor general's report pointed out that the public cost of the legal proceeding was $18 million.
Jones reported that between 1996 and 2011, the government spent more than $11 million on special indemnities for just over 100 people, including Basi and Virk.
After their guilty pleas, Basi and Virk were sentenced to two years less a day, which they served at home. Basi was fined $75,695 and each had to perform 150 hours of community service.
"We interviewed current and former public servants who had responsibility for granting, amending and administering these two indemnity agreements," Jones wrote in his report. "We also reviewed records related to these two indemnity agreements at various branches of government. Based on our interviews and file reviews, we found no evidence of any political involvement in the decisions to grant or administer the indemnities to Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk. The audit team found consistent evidence that decisions were made by public servants, independent of elected officials, and that ministers were informed of decisions only after the decisions were made and implemented."
According to Jones's report, the Legal Services Branch estimated "it was costing government approximately $15,000 for each day in trial for defence and prosecution counsel."
In all, 26 indemnity agreements were examined, which were all granted and approved under the Financial Administration Act.
"In terms of government’s public accountability for special indemnities, we found the annual reporting to be insufficient to enable Members of the Legislative Assembly and the general public to understand the total cost to British Columbians of individual special indemnity agreements," Jones wrote in his report. "The Financial Administration Act requires more disclosure of the costs of indemnities than is currently being provided."
He recommended annual reporting to the legislature including "the number, nature and cost of indemnities granted...that have been concluded in that year."
In addition, Jones called for the administration of special indemnities for criminal cases to be managed externally, either by an independent lawyer or by a member of the Legal Services Society.
Jones also suggested the establishment of "standard rates for private legal counsel".