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Investigators in the office of P.E.I.’s auditor general believe the province has made progress on improving records retention, amid an ongoing investigation related to deleted government email accounts of staff involved in the failed e-gaming initiative.
Former auditor general Jane MacAdam stepped out of retirement on Wednesday to speak before the legislative standing committee on records retention.
The all-party committee was struck in late June after the province’s information and privacy commissioner found that several years of emails of a government employee involved in the e-gaming initiative were missing.
The commissioner deemed these missing records to be a violation of the Archives and Records Act.
The missing records have raised questions about the retention of internal communication of government employees, which can be subject to public disclosure under freedom of information requests.
The e-gaming initiative involved a failed attempt under the former Liberal government of Robert Ghiz to establish P.E.I. as a regulatory hub for online gambling.
The fallout from the initiative has been an ongoing lawsuit involving a company that has accused Provincial government officials of violating the terms of a signed agreement and of deliberately deleting internal government records.
Two variations of this lawsuit have been dismissed, but a decision related to an appeal is expected in the coming months.
AG Report 2020 - Update on Special Assignment on E-gaming Initiative:
In a 2016 investigation into the e-gaming initiative MacAdam and staff of the auditor general’s office concluded that provincial departments were not adequately retaining documents, including email accounts of top government staff, in contravention of the Archives and Records Act.
But a follow-up to the 2016 report, completed last fall, concluded that some progress had been made in relation to government records retention practices.
Jennifer Bowness, a senior audit manager with the auditor general's office, said compliance with records retention policy has improved.
"Compliance was reported in 2019 as being between 60 and 80 per cent of all departments," Bowness said.
By contrast, Bowness said an internal assessment conducted by the Public Archives and Records office in 2009 found that 93 per cent of provincial departments “had not addressed electronic records management".
Bowness said more civil servants have received some training in records retention, and more records and information management staff have been hired.
"I really do think there has been a lot more buy-in in regards to records retention,” Bowness said.
MacAdam told the committee that, during the 2016 investigation, investigators in her office felt that they had not been provided with records from some key civil servants involved in the initiative.
"Email accounts of some former senior government officials who were key participants in the e-gaming initiative, the loyalty card program and/or the financial services platform were closed, deleted or could not be recovered," MacAdam told the standing committee.
MacAdam said the deleted accounts included those of a former chief of staff of former premier Robert Ghiz, a former deputy minister and a former executive council clerk.
The follow-up report examined the status of the 15 recommendations made in the 2016 special assignment report on e-gaming. Eight of the recommendations were deemed to have been complete, while seven were classified as “ongoing”.
Among the recommendations deemed “ongoing” was one calling for the Public Archives and Records Office to regularly monitor compliance with records retention policies of government departments and submit these reports to the Department of Education, which governs the office. Another recommendation deemed to be “ongoing” called for the minister of education to ensure these policies are followed.
MacAdam said recommendations were deemed “ongoing” if some action had been taken to enforce existing legislation, but the need to comply to the legislation remained present.
“This is an ongoing action item to be assessed at least annually and updated as circumstances change," MacAdam said of these recommendations.
MacAdam and Bowness also said text messages and instant messages should be considered government records and should be retained in a manner similar to internal emails.
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- P.E.I. government pledges external review as questions loom over missing e-mails
- P.E.I. e-gaming lawsuit ‘noise’ to be separated from truth: government counsel
- CMT counsel accuses P.E.I. government of withholding e-gaming documents
- P.E.I. government says it did not intend to miss deadline set out in e-gaming FOIPP order
- Jane MacAdam, P.E.I.'s auditor general, to retire
- P.E.I. government can't explain loss of e-gaming emails
- Ghiz denies interference in P.E.I.'s failed e-gaming initiative
- UPDATED: Deleted e-gaming emails finally revealed by P.E.I. auditor general
- Name names on deleted P.E.I. e-gaming emails, Steven Myers says
- UPDATE: Secrecy was the name of the game in the e-gaming scandal