Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut October 03, 2016 - 8:30 am

Nunavut lender can disclose names, privacy boss says

“There’s nothing on those legislations right now that prevents them from doing what you’re asking to be done"

STEVE DUCHARME
Elaine Keenan Bengts, Nunavut's privacy commissioner, said there's nothing in Nunavut law which protects information collected by the Nunavut Business Credit Corporation; if MLAs want a list of loan recipients, they should see it, she said. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)
Elaine Keenan Bengts, Nunavut's privacy commissioner, said there's nothing in Nunavut law which protects information collected by the Nunavut Business Credit Corporation; if MLAs want a list of loan recipients, they should see it, she said. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)

Nunavut’s privacy commissioner doubled down on comments she made last year concerning the Nunavut Business Credit Corp.’s refusal to publically identify who it lends money to despite being an arms length lending agency for the Government of Nunavut.

Elaine Keenan Bengts, appearing Sept. 13 before Nunavut’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts, Independent Officers and Other Entities, said there’s nothing preventing the NBCC from releasing that information.

“I can say after my appearance last year that I went back and I looked more clearly at the legislation, which establishes the NBCC and the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act,” she told the standing committee.

“There’s nothing on those legislations right now that prevents them from doing what you’re asking to be done.”

And when she says “you,” Keenan Bengts means members of Nunavut’s legislature, who have been asking for that information to be released.

In a report tabled last year, Nunavut’s Standing Committee on Oversight of Government Operations and Public Accounts recommended that the NBCC release the identity of its loan recipients to ensure greater transparency and oversight, using—in part—quotes from Bengts.

The request is not a trivial one.

In 2007, the Auditor General of Canada, who discovered extensive mismanagement of funds and incompetent leadership, dragged the NBCC into the public eye with a highly critical report on its lending practices.

The NBCC is an arms-length lending agency for the Government of Nunavut. It lends public money to small and medium-size businesses in the territory that do not qualify for loans from chartered banks.

Recent court documents filed against former-Rankin Inlet taxi operator, David Wiseman, indicate he defaulted on more than $1.1 million in loans from both the NBCC and its affiliate, the Kivalliq Business Development Corp.

Wiseman also faces two counts of fraud, stemming from actions he took at his taxi garage after he received the public loans.

But the Department of Economic Development and Transportation, in a response tabled in the Nunavut legislature last March, is opposed to the kind of disclosure Keenan Bengts is after.

“While the government acknowledges its responsibility to be accountable for public monies, it remains concerned about the implications of releasing such information, which may be considered sensitive given the territory’s relatively small private sector and without advance notice to recipients,” ED&T minister, Monica Ell-Kanayuk, said in March.

Ell-Kanayuk, in her response, said she would request a formal ruling from the privacy commissioner on the disclosure of loan recipients.

But Keenan Bengts told South Baffin MLA David Joanasie that the GN never approached her to do so.

“Not to my recollection. I will go back to my office and double check, but I’m fairly certain they haven’t asked me that question,” she said.

Deputy minister of the Department of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs, Chris D’Arcy, appeared Sept. 14 before the standing committee, telling MLAs that the NBCC is moving to address their concerns. But D’Arcy did not provide further details.

“We have spoken to the staff at NBCC and my understanding is they are moving towards taking a look at how they speak about their loan portfolio and they will perhaps embed that in their [next] annual report,” he said.

D’Arcy acknowledged that similar agencies in the Northwest Territories disclose the identities of all loan recipients at the end of its fiscal year.

“Members [at NBCC] are aware that [GNWT] does divulge that information and I’m sure the NBCC is taking a look at all of that and we’re looking forward to seeing…how they decide to resolve the matter,” D’Arcy told the committee.

“[The NBCC] is a territorial corporation. As you know, it’s public funds.”

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