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Chiefs' handsome fees cripple child welfare agency.

Chiefs of Nova Scotia handed Ottawa and streetfighter Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt their best day ever with the issue of over-inflated chiefly per diems making headlines on APTN.

The chiefs have been, unabashedly, taking the biscuits out of the mouths of their most vulnerable people, charging $500 each as board members to lead their own cash-strapped child welfare agency.

Any meeting they attend, they pocket $500 each, "regardless of time commitment." If they pick up the phone to have a quick talk about business, that's $500 each. This is on top of their regular salaries and travel.

Federal funding of the Mi'kmaw Family Services Agency is 'woefully inadequate', said its representative Brenda Cope. It doesn't even remotely cover what was necessary to operate, she said. But that's not stopping the chiefs from adding to the burden, to the point that the organization can't have the meetings it needs for fear of busting the bank.

It's hard to make an argument for the underfunding of child welfare when your own chiefs are skimming a packet of dough from budgets that should go to other priorities.

The information comes to APTN through an internal report done for the child welfare agency. Reporter Tina Roache doesn't tell us how she came to be in procession of such a document, so people have surmised that it could have been leaked to make the chiefs look bad.

And in this case, that's not hard to do. The chiefs were fully aware of the financial pressures the organization was under when they increased their per diem rate. Yes, you read that right. The board of directors of the Mi'kmaw Family Services Agency--the chiefs--decided their own per diem rate and, while they could have chosen restraint, they did not.

So now the gravy train has just pulled into the station of public disapproval. Look bad they do, with accusations of double-dipping and gorging themselves at the trough to enrich themselves above all others.

You can do a pretty good business as a Nova Scotia chief by attending meetings it would seem. If they attend two or three meetings a day, then they get the per diem for each meeting. There has, however, been recent reforms, said one chief, around the number of times you can claim the same travel subsidy.

"Sometimes we have three meetings and people would get paid the full three meetings, the whole thing. Now we changed that part," said Potlotek Chief Wilbert Marshall. "If you're already there you don't have to travel, right? You get the honorarium. And some places are dropping theirs to $300 a day."

Cope said the internal review suggested the agency should turf the chiefs in favor of having community members sitting on the board. But she said having the chiefs at the table buys their influence with Aboriginal Affairs Canada.

"What we find is that the chiefs are more powerful than community members," said Cope.

So it would seem, but now the cat has been let out of the bag, we'll see who holds the power. A second report from APTN on this issue says the people of Nova Scotia are furious at the per diem practice.

Back in the day, writes one reader responding to the story via Facebook, leaders used to fight to the death for their people. Now, it's all about the almighty dollar.

"Shame on them for stealing money from their own people," writes another. "That is why non-Natives always make comments and look down on us ... we don't look after each other ... everything anymore is me, me, me. Fill my pockets ... It's sickening!"

"I have no time for anyone, let alone my own people, stealing from their own communities, and from those that need it the most. Shameful," reads another comment.

And on and on.

We happen to believe that chiefs and other leaders need to earn a reasonable living, and should be compensated fairly. It has to be fair to them, but it also has to be fair and credible in the eyes of the people. And it should pass the smell test, and this practice reeks of abuse.

Chief Paul Prosper of Paqtnkek First Nation says the chiefs recognize that they shouldn't be saddling an agency with the kinds of costs associated with their per diems. The internal review was done in 2011. We guess they are still mulling over what should be done about these very serious concerns.

The chiefs have struck a committee to review the per diem rate. No word on how soon that committee's work will get done. Until then, the per diem structure remains unchanged.

Windspeaker
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Title Annotation:rants and raves
Publication:Windspeaker
Date:Feb 1, 2015
Words:772
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