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Saskatchewan auditor to look into hotel expenses for social services recipients

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Saskatchewan's auditor is set to investigate the province's procurement and payment practices when people on social assistance need to stay at hotels.

"We will publicly report any significant matters in our 2024 Report (Volume Two) in December 2024," April Serink, a spokesperson for auditor Tara Clemett, said Thursday.

"This further examination, at the discretion of our office, did arise because of recent debates in the legislative assembly."

The investigation comes after the Opposition NDP accused a motel owned by a legislature member of increasing rates for a client when Social Services started to pick up the tab.

Motel receipts provided by the NDP show the client paid $132 a night, plus a $200 damage deposit, when she initially checked in.

However, when the Ministry of Social Services decided to foot the bill, the receipts show the government paid $168 a night and then $200 a night a few days later.

Saskatchewan Party legislature member Gary Grewal owns the motel.

Social Services Minister Gene Makowsky has said Grewal plans to meet with the conflict of interest commissioner over the accusations.

Makowsky told reporters on Thursday he plans to provide details on how much the province has spent on the motel over the past five years.

The ministry spent $172,000 last year for recipients to stay there.

Makowksy has also committed to provide a breakdown of costs for other hotels, though he expressed concerns over sharing too much information.

"I understand transparency and I want that, but I don't know if there's any privacy concerns," he said. "I just want to be cautious on that sort of thing."

Last year, the province spent $2.25 million on hotel stays for social assistance recipients.

Grewal has not been seen at the legislature since the allegations surfaced in mid-November.

He was not available for questions on the day the accusations came to light. The province said his brother died that day.

Meara Conway, the Opposition NDP social services critic, said if hotels are doing business with Saskatchewan, the government should report on how much it has spent on them.

She said such cost breakdowns aren't reported publicly in Saskatchewan's financial books.

"This raises serious questions about basic transparency and accountability for the people of Saskatchewan," Conway said.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2023.

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