OTTAWA – A national emergency funding program to help agricultural producers recover from natural disasters such as disease, drought or excess moisture is plagued by delays that force many recipients to wait before receiving help from the government, says a new audit tabled Tuesday in Parliament.
The report, completed by Auditor General Michael Ferguson, said the government was taking about 126 days, on average, to assess natural disasters as part of the multimillion-dollar program called AgriRecovery.
But this falls well short of the program’s 45-day target for assessments, established as a goal in order to offer “quick, targeted assistance to producers who experience disasters, so that they can return to business as rapidly as possible.”
Overall, the audit found that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in charge of the program, was only meeting its 45-day target in 16 per cent of cases.
The audit also found that the department was faster at assessing some of the most expensive climate-related disasters related to excessive moisture than it was when assessing less costly events.
For example, a $150-million plan in response to excessive moisture was delivered in 110 days, while a $44,000 event took 228 days, said the audit.
“There is currently a risk that the cost of administration for small initiatives is disproportionate to size,” wrote Ferguson in the report.
After approving an initiative, the program has a nine-month target for making payments to producers, and the audit found it was meeting that target in 84 per cent of the cases.
But the audit also identified some inadequate tracking of the timeliness of payments, recommending that the department improve this part of its performance.
The department agreed with the recommendations, explaining to Ferguson’s team that it would begin implementing changes in 2014, but had set a target date of March 2018 for improving its existing plan, through co-ordination with the provinces, to speed up the processing of payments.