Questions remain over Chisasibi spending for a respite home that has yet to be built

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Further evidence has surfaced that appear to corroborate previous allegations of financial irregularities in the spending of funds intended to construct a respite centre in Chisasibi.

The controversy first surfaced at Chisasibi’s annual general assembly in August, when the band council’s conduct committee found councillor Jeffrey Kitty to be in violation of the code of ethics by accepting a project management contract with a company he had previously worked with. He resigned before disciplinary action could be taken.

A band council member also alleged at the AGA that $350,000 was missing from a commitment made in 2016 to build a respite home. Chief Davey Bobbish disputed the allegation, stating the money is still there, that the commitment still stands, and that funds committed from the Board of Compensation were never actually allocated or officially requested.

However, the Nation recently obtained documents showing that council passed a members’ resolution on February 2, 2016, requesting that $496,214.82 be released from the Board of Compensation’s Community Fund to construct a respite home in Chisasibi.

At that year’s fiscal end on March 31, financial statements indeed show a $0 balance in the Community Fund. Nonetheless, the exact figure allocated for the respite home – equalling the year’s total amount available from the Community Fund – was spent on various “soil preparation” and “landscaping” expenses. No notice or explanation for this reallocation of funds was provided to council.

The Nation was unable to confirm precisely how Chisasibi’s 2015-16 Community Fund was spent. A figure of $79,020 is marked as “Fort George Road,” but other expenditures are unspecified.

Two council resolutions from May and July of 2016 reveal landscaping contracts awarded to Mookabi Construction and Mithamin Transport & Construction, with no financial amounts allocated or any accounting of the budgetary funding source. A councillor who wishes to remain anonymous confirms that the Chisasibi Band Council passed these resolutions without proper information about the budget from which the funds were disbursed.

In response to these allegations, Chief Bobbish told the Nation that it is normal procedure to reallocate funds requested by members’ resolutions toward other projects. Essentially, if there is money left in the Community Fund at year-end, other uses are found for the budget. In other words, he said, it is “use it or lose it.”

“Yes, sometimes it happens like that,” stated Bobbish. “We have to use the money. We know we’re going to get more next year in the Community Fund, then we’ll take into account that we have a commitment in place. Once the project is in place, ready for construction, then we’ll make sure the money is available for that.”

When asked if there should be more transparency regarding this reallocation, Bobbish responded that, “Everything is audited and the commitments usually are not funds spent. Any funds that are being spent are recorded accordingly (…) and these projects are identified where the funding first came from.”

According to the Nation‘s source, established criteria for accepting construction projects has not been followed, with contracts awarded to the lowest bidder regardless of other considerations.

Mookabi and Mithamin have allegedly been receiving the majority of the town’s contracts in recent years. Chief Bobbish disputes these claims but confirms that owners of both Chisasibi companies are brothers-in-law of former councillor Jeffrey Kitty.

“Maybe they’re getting too much work this year; I don’t know,” Bobbish said. “Every year it’s different. Jeffrey wasn’t the one that was giving contracts – no one councillor can give contracts away. It was the council’s decision, not one person.”

A new tendering policy was implemented a few months ago in Chisasibi that prevents councillors from bidding on or receiving contracts from the band.

Since the policy was adopted, two council members resigned their seats. Chief Bobbish first mentioned that there had been three resignations but then corrected his statement, explaining that he was “thinking of another one that’s coming.”

Concerns arising from these various allegations include the lack of transparency and accountability. With no notice given for reallocating funds that were requested for the respite home, what was in the financial report sent to the Board of Compensation specifying where the money was spent?

If the commitment to build the respite home still stands – even if the money is eventually found from another source, as Bobbish asserts – will the community again have to ask the Board of Compensation for almost half a million dollars? Inquiries to the Board of Compensation were redirected to Chisasibi’s financial departments.

Repeated inquiries to Chisasibi’s Director General Thomas Washipabano for comment were not answered and minutes from the August AGA remain unavailable.

“The respite home is not ready to construct,” Bobbish insisted. “There’s no long-term plan. We only have the money to construct the building and we don’t want to if we’re not sure we’re going to have the money for operations and maintenance. We’re trying to work with the Cree Health Board on this.”

As for where those funds were reallocated, Bobbish confirms that “it was spent on projects like landscaping,” but couldn’t provide further details. He emphasized the positive changes that have occurred since he has become chief, including beautification and cleaning up the deficit.

“Landscaping has been a very popular project for the last two years in Chisasibi,” he remarked. “We beautified the community and people appreciated that. I’ve been chief six years now and my whole purpose in life is to make my community beautiful for the good of my people.”

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