A promise from the NWT’s transparency minister to provide more information on cabinet travel expenses remains unfulfilled nearly six months after the website containing the information was supposed to go live.
“We began to kind of realize it was maybe more work to be done than we prepared for, particularly around the technological side of things,” said Andrew Livingstone, cabinet communications spokesperson.
Last November, Minister Louis Sebert delivered a speech in the legislative assembly about how the GNWT is improving government transparency.
In addition to a new mandate reporting website and a public board appointments website, Sebert said a new-and-improved platform for reporting on ministers’ travel expenses and meetings was expected to be up and running “within the month.”
Livingstone said the GNWT is hopeful the project will now be complete by the end of May, giving residents more information on ministers’ expenses.
Ministers’ travel expense reports are currently published quarterly in PDF format on the Department of Executive website.
The new version is expected to be more user-friendly, Livingstone said, and will contain a database that is searchable by minister, department, trip, date and so on.
It will be updated monthly and allow residents to see a line-by-line breakdown of travel expenses such as hotels, accommodations and meals, he said, whereas the current travel reports provide only the total cost on trips.
“There’s no real breakdown of where that total comes from,” Livingstone said. “So instead of report publishing, we’re essentially (going to be) publishing raw data.”
The public will also be able to see which ministers attended what meetings, what the meeting was about and who the meeting was with, Livingstone said.
In the meantime, quarterly reports have been slow to go up on the current website.
The ministerial travel report for October to December 2016 was published last week, although the website shows the last quarter report of the year is usually published by December.
Livingstone said an error in the report led to the delay in publishing it.
The first quarter report for this year, which is usually published in March, according to the website, is not available.
Livingstone said it will be available once the new site is up and running.
This is the first time the GNWT has created a website like this, Livingstone added, and it has come with its challenges including technological hurdles, staff training, as well as capacity issues.
“There’s no staff specifically dedicated to the website project,” Livingstone said, “so there’s a number of us that are working collaboratively to get the website up.”
He said all those factors have led to the website not being ready for the original deadline last year.
Regular MLAs aren’t concerned about the delay.
Some say they prefer the new travel reporting website is done correctly than quickly.
“If I’ve learned one thing about government, it’s that things move slowly,” said Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson. “I believe that we’re moving in the right direction with this, so I’d rather them do it properly and get it released than just put something out there quickly.”
He said the changes will not just benefit the public but will help MLAs do their jobs better, too.
Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart agreed with Simpson.
“Transparency was a major issue of the election,” he said. “I think we all want change quickly, especially after an election, and it takes time to get to where we need to be.”
Testart said he’s confident those systems will be in place “as soon as they can be.”
“We need to do it right, we need to do it accurately, and sometimes that does take time,” Testart said.