Safeguarding of funds for P.E.I.'s most vulnerable inadequate:auditor general

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CHARLOTTETOWN — The assets of some of Prince Edward Island’s most vulnerable residents are not being adequately safeguarded by the Public Trustee, the province’s auditor general has found.

Jane MacAdam’s annual report released Wednesday looked at how the trustee manages $9.4 million in assets of roughly 300 people, including those deemed medically incapable of making their own financial decisions.

MacAdam’s report said client files were disorganized and information was often difficult to find, and in one case, the trustee had not known that a client died 12 years ago.

“There was no documentation on file to support that the office had periodically checked in with the client or the caregiver to provide financial oversight for the client,” the 143-page report said.

“In one of these three cases, we found that the client had been deceased since 2004. The Public Trustee office was unaware of the client’s death and the annual fee was charged each year.”

The report said some receipts and disbursements did not have sufficient supporting documentation. It said proper documentation for nonrecurring transactions could not be provided for 11 of 30 client files, including records for costs of about $125,000 withheld on the sale of a condominium.

The report said the office’s accounting system is inefficient and inadequate, hurting its ability to produce timely financial reports.

It also said there is currently no documented policy for seeking out and contacting heirs in the event of a client’s death, and no policy for investing assets.

“We noted two cases in our sample where the client’s cash balance was maintained for an extended period at an amount much higher than the monthly needs, one at $170,000, and the other at $225,000,” the report said.

“In each of these cases, the client could have earned interest on the excess cash had it been invested by the Public Trustee office.”

The report makes a number of recommendations, including that summaries of basic client information be updated regularly and a better segregation of duties be created in the small office of three people.

MacAdam’s report said the findings and recommendations have been discussed with the Public Trustee, and a written response has been requested.

The Public Trustee was not available for comment Wednesday.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Fox said the Liberal government is failing to properly support programs and services that affect vulnerable Islanders.

“I wish this government would put half the energy into supporting Islanders in need that it puts into its schemes and coverups,” said Fox in a news release.

— Written by Aly Thomson in Halifax.

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