REGINA - Provincial Auditor Tara Clemett released her 2023 Report -Vol. 1 at the legislature on Tuesday.
The 2023 report included results of annual integrated audits of 58 different agencies, and five performance audits. There were also 19 followup audits conducted. But a few areas of the report were particularly noteworthy.
Here are five things to know about this year’s auditor’s report findings:
Saskatchewan Income Support calls being missed
A major story was the audit on the Saskatchewan Income Support program, and in particular the need to improve the process of applying for benefits.
The report noted the Ministry of Social Services received over 255,000 calls to its SIS phone line (including almost 50,000 calls specific to SIS applications) over a six-month period, with 64 per cent of those calls to the service centre going unanswered. The monthly results ranging from 48 to 66 per cent of SIS calls addressed in 20 minutes or less.
“We attempted to apply to SIS three different times over the phone and never connected with a ministry client services representative,” said Clemett.
“People experiencing difficult circumstances and struggling to meet their basic needs need clear and accessible ways to apply for income assistance. Social Services also needs to offer more timely case planning supports and referrals.”
The Provincial Auditor's report called for the ministry to periodically analyze overall causes of SIS client evictions and unpaid utility bills, and to develop strategies to address them. The report noted 5,200 SIS clients had unpaid SaskEnergy or SaskPower bills for more than 30 days greater than $100, amounting to almost $4.2 million as of Feb. 2023. They also found 228 SIS clients had been evicted over a 10 month period, higher than the ministry's figures.
The report also called for further performance measures to assess SIS’s effectiveness, such as looking at how many clients had left SIS and returned again.
Ministry of Education strategic plan re: Indigenous students
The Provincial Auditor also assessed the Ministry of Education’s processes to implement its "Inspiring Success: First Nations and Métis Pre-K–12 Education Policy Framework" to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous students. It was noted that 34,000 or 19 per cent of K–12 students had self-identified as Indigenous in provincial schools.
The report noted that despite the Ministry implementing several initiatives targeting Indigenous student graduation rates, they found these rates remained relatively unchanged since 2018, with 60 per cent of Indigenous students graduating grade 12 within five years.
“This potentially leaves 40 per cent of Saskatchewan indigenous students potentially disadvantaged without a high school diploma, limiting their employment opportunities,” Clemett said.
She called for the ministry to expand its target of student academic achievement beyond graduation rates.
“Assessing Indigenous students numeracy, literacy, attendance and engagement levels well before grade 10 is key. Waiting until grade 10 is too late to provide early intervention and to apply needed initiatives.”
Her report also called for requiring enhanced reporting from school divisions to evaluate whether these measures are being met and if not, determine action plans for underperforming measures or related initiatives.
Sask Polytech declining Indigenous grad rates
The Provincial Auditor’s report also found gaps at Saskatchewan Polytech’s processes in supporting the success of Indigenous students.
They reported declining numbers for Indigenous graduates: in 2018 it was 827 Indigenous graduates, in 2021 it was down to 648.
Clemett cited the need for Sask Polytech to expand its performance measures and targets to evaluate its Indigenous-specific strategies. They also needed to verify the Indigenous identity of staff in Indigenous-designated positions, Clemett said, as “self-identification may not be reliable and may impact on Sask Polytech’s reputation.”
Ministry of Highways winter maintenance
The Provincial Auditor also looked at Ministry of Highways processes to conduct winter maintenance in clearing the snow, cited as important due to the safety issues involved. Overall, they found the ministry of highways does a “pretty good job” of winter maintenance, said Clemett.
It was noted highways with the most traffic have snow removed sooner than others. Level One highways have snow removed within six hours of the end of a storm, but Clemett noted they found 46 instances where service expectations were not met.
“The Ministry of Highways needs to set a time frame for reporting such instances and make managers review them, so timely adjustments can be made to ensure expectations of levels of service are met in the future. We found one instance the service expectation wasn’t met, and yet was not reported until 79 days after the event took place.”
In addition, they noted the Ministry needed to clarify terminology on the Highway Hotline to allow for consistent and informed decisions about winter driving conditions on highways — for example, making it clear “travel not recommended” means “unsuitable for non essential driving.”
The audit report also called for the Ministry of Highways to track whether snow plow grader operators get ten consecutive hours of rest in every 24 hour period, or waive the mandatory rest period. “Operators who waive rest period# may become fatigued, increasing the risk of collisions, so tracking is imperative for the safety of operators and others on the highways,” said Clemett.
Water Security Agency
Finally, the provincial auditor report addressed a followup audit to the seven recommendations made in 2020 on the Water Security Agency’s processes to regulate water use.
Clemett noted the Agency “did not make significant progress on four of the seven recommendations,” noting the agency still need to actively monitor whether the almost 17,000 water-use licensees had complied with their license conditions or used more water than allowed. They also needed to develop enforcement procedures and give senior management reports on non-compliance.
“The Water Security Agency undertaking effective monitoring is key to Saskatchewan having a sustainable water supply for generations to come,” said Clemett.