By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The federal Aboriginal Affairs department is probing the finances of a Manitoba First Nation organization whose embattled grand chief is trying to avoid a non-confidence vote by member chiefs.
The department’s assessment and investigations branch told Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief David Harper via letter auditing firm KPMG would be sifting through the organization’s books dating back to 2010.
The probe will include MKO’s use of funds from Aboriginal Affairs and Employment and Social Development Canada including Harper’s expenses, money paid to the organization’s former director of finance Glen Buchko and contracts issued by the organization.
“We have received allegations that federal funding provided to (MKO) is not being used for its intended purpose,” said the Aug. 12 letter, signed by Sylvie Lecompte, director of Aboriginal Affairs’ assessment and investigation services branch.
Harper could not be reached for comment. The voicemail for his cell phone was full when APTN National News called the number. Harper’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.
A spokesperson for MKO said the organization would issue no comment.
Harper could face a non-confidence vote next week when MKO chiefs meet in Opaskwayak Cree Nation. During an MKO meeting in Norway House this past July, chiefs passed a resolution offering Harper a choice of stepping down during a separate internal forensic audit launched by the organization or face a non-confidence vote at the next MKO meeting.
Harper chose to hang on and has since hired a lawyer to help fight opposing chiefs pushing for his ouster. MKO chiefs have already asked Winnipeg-firm Lazer Grant to conduct a full forensic audit of the organization’s books. The first phase of the forensic audit was triggered in 2013 after chiefs discovered Buchko was making about $250,000 annually.
Harper is facing allegations of financial mismanagement and of using MKO funds for personal purchases like guitars, flights for his girlfriend and car repairs. Harper said he paid back all his personal expenses.
MKO’s finances have plunged deep into red under Harper’s leadership and the organization was warned by a third auditing firm that Aboriginal Affairs could put it under co-management or third-party management if it didn’t get its books in order, especially around travel and consultants.
MKO was also warned to include a paper trail around its credit card use.
MKO’s accumulated deficit for the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2013, hit $976, 025. MKO also accumulated an operating deficit of $609,058 by March 31, 2013, which was a 71 per cent increase over the previous year’s operating deficit of $356,108.
Harper has also been accused of obstructing Lazer Grant’s forensic audit. He denied obstructing the audit. Harper has also faced criticism over his plan to sell clan membership to sponsors as a way to raise money for the AFN election which MKO is hosting in Winnipeg this December.