Akesuk loses portfolio
Tootoo poses tough questions on Nunavut Business Credit Corp.
Nunavut cabinet member Olayuk Akesuk, the MLA for South Baffin, has lost responsibility for the Department of Economic Development and Transportation, Premier Paul Okalik announced in a press release this week.
The decision follows a legislative sitting in which Akesuk faced tough questions posed by Iqaluit Centre MLA Hunter Tootoo on how the Nunavut Business Credit Corp. collects money from people who are unable to repay loans they have borrowed.
Akesuk, who has served as an MLA since 1999, and as a cabinet minister since 2000, will retain responsibility for the Nunavut Housing Corp. and its $200-million social housing construction scheme.
David Simailak, the finance minister and MLA for Baker Lake, is now responsible for Economic Development and Transportation.
That portfolio includes responsibility for the Nunavut Business Credit Corp., which lends money to small businesses that can’t normally qualify for bank loans, and the Nunavut Development Corp., which owns and operates a variety of job-creating commercial enterprises in partnership with community-based businesses.
Okalik declined to be interviewed about his decision to take the economic development portfolio away from Akesuk. The news release described it as “an effort to increase financial oversight over key areas of government expenditures.”
But in the recent sitting of the Legislative Assembly, which ended Dec. 5, Akesuk appeared to be taken by surprise by a barrage of questions that Tootoo put to him over several days.
Tootoo tabled documents concerning the plight of an Iqaluit family who now face personal bankruptcy. The family, who several years ago ran a business in the Kivalliq that went under, ended up owing $101,690.43 to the NBCC.
Tootoo lambasted Akesuk over how the NBCC treated the family, saying the government spent more than $250,000 on lawyers to recover the money – more than the original debt.
Akesuk responded by saying he asked his officials to review all the documents related to the issue and provide him with information about what exactly happened.
But Tootoo wasn’t satisfied, partly because one document he tabled suggests the family was singled out for harsh treatment because one member is “a southerner.”
“I think someone really dropped the ball on this one when they have a government that spent a quarter of a million dollars to bankrupt someone, a family of five, with three kids that are going to potentially end up out on the street. The best thing you can do is get a briefing on it, and I’ll look into it? I mean, it is too late for that. The damage has been done already,” Tootoo said in the legislature Dec. 4.