$5B in­fra­struc­ture strat­egy doesn’t ex­ist

Act­ing au­di­tor gen­eral con­cerned about be­ing de­nied in­for­ma­tion from de­part­ments

The Southern Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE BARTLETT

The prov­ince doesn’t have a for­mal $5-bil­lion in­fra­struc­ture strat­egy and de­part­ments are claim­ing cab­i­net se­crecy pre­vents the re­lease of de­tails about how their in­fra­struc­ture projects are as­sessed.

Those were two of the ma­jor find­ings in the au­di­tor gen­eral’s an­nual re­port, which was re­leased Wed­nes­day.

Of the is­sues scru­ti­nized, act­ing au­di­tor gen­eral Wayne Loveys said the un­suc­cess­ful quest to get in­for­ma­tion from de­part­ments about in­fra­struc­ture de­ci­sions raised one of the big­gest red flags.

“The prece­dent-set­ting na­ture of that is very con­cern­ing.”

Mr. Loveys elab­o­rated on what hap­pened re­gard­ing the much-touted in­fra­struc­ture strat­egy, which was an­nounced in 2004 and was val­ued at $5 bil­lion last year.

His of­fice asked for a copy and was told there was no for­mal in­fra­struc­ture strat­egy doc­u­ment.

It then re­quested in­for­ma­tion from five de­part­ments about pro­cesses for iden­ti­fy­ing, eval­u­at­ing and rank­ing in­fra­struc­ture projects.

Pre­lim­i­nary de­tails were pro­vided, but it be­came ap­par­ent the needed in­for­ma­tion wouldn’t be forth­com­ing.

Health and Com­mu­nity Ser­vices, and then Jus­tice, said the in­for­ma­tion fell un­der a sec­tion of the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act pro­tect­ing data that could in­form cab­i­net de­lib­er­a­tions.

Mr. Loveys in­di­cated it clearly wasn’t worth­while to make fur­ther re­quests of the de­part­ments. Still, he didn’t buy the ra­tio­nale.

“We know that. We ac­cept that, but their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of de­lib­er­a­tions is very wide­spread. They’re say­ing any and all in­for­ma­tion, whether or not it goes to cab­i­net or the bud­get com­mit­tee or any­thing, is off lim­its to us. Any­thing in the depart­ment. Ob­vi­ously we don’t agree with that.”

Mr. Loveys noted the re­sponse is in­con­sis­tent with pre­vi­ous de­ci­sions be­cause the au­di­tor gen­eral has probed things like in­fra­struc­ture and med­i­cal equip­ment in the past.

He in­di­cated be­ing de­nied the in­for­ma­tion was sig­nif­i­cant.

“If I go for a new project for this year and I go to the same de­part­ments and ask for some­thing on an­other pro­gram, they could say any and all in­for­ma­tion could even­tu­ally end up in cab­i­net, so we can’t give it to you.”

C-NLOPB RE­VIEW OFF

An­other red flag for Mr. Loveys also in­volved not get­ting ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion.

The Canada-new­found­land and Labrador Off­shore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB), a joint fed­eral-pro­vin­cial body, con­tin­ued to stimy at­tempts to con­duct an op­er­a­tional re­view.

Mr. Lovey’s of­fice has been try­ing to do the au­dit since 2008 and the board has con­tin­u­ously re­fused.

It did say it would pro­vide un­re­stricted ac­cess to priv­i­leged in­for­ma­tion pro­vided find­ings re­lated to that in­for­ma­tion were not re­ported.

Mr.loveys couldn’t ac­cept that con­di­tion and has de­cided the re­view will not pro­ceed.

He said that was re­gret­table be­cause the board will not be held ac­count­able like other gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties.

“This just brings it to a res­o­lu­tion, and in the re­port, I say that it’s been a lengthy and some­what frus­trat­ing process, and that’s true for all of us in the of­fice.”

PO­LIT­I­CAL RE­AC­TION

The 530-page re­port was re­leased midafter­noon.

New Demo­cratic Party leader Lor­raine Michael had only read two sec­tions - the re­views of the in­fra­struc­ture strat­egy and the C-NLOPB - when in­ter­viewed just be­fore 5 p.m.

She said those sec­tions showed the ques­tion­able open­ness of gov­ern­ment and its en­ti­ties.

“It re­ally dis­turbs me as an MHA. What chance do I have, or what chance does the public have, or what chance does our cau­cus have, of get­ting in­for­ma­tion from the gov­ern­ment on things when even the au­di­tor gen­eral - who is pro­tected by an act - can’t get in­for­ma­tion that will help ... with do­ing his work.”

The NDP leader added the lack of a for­mal in­fra­struc­ture strat­egy will make her won­der what ac­tu­ally ex­ists on pa­per when a gov­ern­ment plan is men­tioned.

Like Ms. Michael, Lib­eral leader Dwight Ball had not yet read the en­tire doc­u­ment when he spoke with The Tele­gram.

But he said “we didn’t have to turn too many pages to find out there’s some alarm­ing things com­ing out of this year’s AG re­port.”

He in­di­cated he was taken back by the ab­sence of an in­fra­struc­ture strat­egy and the de­part­ments’ deny­ing in­for­ma­tion on their in­fra­struc­ture plan­ning.

“I was shocked to find out that the AG didn’t have ac­cess to this in­for­ma­tion. Re­ally, from an ad­min­is­tra­tion that has po­si­tioned them­selves to be open and ac­count­able, in this case, it’s not the way we see it. That said, we’ve been see­ing ex­am­ples of this over the last lit­tle while. You need to look no fur­ther than the (Public Util­i­ties Board), the House of Assem­bly be­ing closed again ...”

FI­NAN­CIAL AU­DIT

The re­port also in­cluded an au­dit of fi­nan­cial state­ments for the fis­cal year end­ing Mar. 31, 2011.

Mr. Loveys’ look at the books found the sur­plus was $598 mil­lion, while the net debt was $8.1 bil­lion.

He noted gov­ern­ment’s fis­cal po­si­tion has im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly over the past years, but cau­tioned that a num­ber of fac­tors need con­sid­er­a­tion mov­ing for­ward.

Those in­clude net debt, spend­ing sus­tain­abil­ity, de­pen­dence on oil, the ag­ing pop­u­la­tion, in­creased cap­i­tal spend­ing, and the Muskrat Falls de­vel­op­ment, as well as in­creases in the un­funded pen­sion li­a­bil­ity and li­a­bil­ity for group in­sur­ance.

In a re­lease, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Tom Mar­shall said the re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tions will be re­viewed.

He noted gov­ern­ment rec­og­nizes the need for a con­tin­ued fo­cus on debt re­duc­tion, while con­tain­ing growth in ex­pen­di­tures.

“We must con­tinue to spend within our means and fo­cus on sus­tain­abil­ity as we plan for the fu­ture of New­found­land and Labrador.”

OTHER ITEMS

Be­sides the find­ings on the in­fra­struc­ture strat­egy, the C-NLOPB and the fi­nan­cial au­dit, the re­port also de­ter­mined:

- En­vi­ron­ment and Con­ser­va­tion’s in­dus­trial com­pli­ance sec­tion isn’t con­sis­tently in­spect­ing or mon­i­tor­ing in­dus­trial fa­cil­i­ties, in­creas­ing the risk of en­vi­ron­men­tal vi­o­la­tions;

- the for­mer depart­ment of Hu­man Re­sources, Labour and Em­ploy­ment didn’t fol- low gov­ern­ment pol­icy on hir­ing tem­po­rary work­ers;

- the Mar­ble Moun­tain De­vel­op­ment Corp. has run a deficit for the past sev­eral years, re­ly­ing too much on a pro­vin­cial op­er­at­ing grant and a $2.1 mil­lion line of credit, of which $1.9 mil­lion has been spent;

- among other is­sues at the Western School Dis­trict, there were over­pay­ments and un­der­pay­ments to staff, pur­chases made with­out in­voices, and hir­ings that lacked ev­i­dence of a job com­pe­ti­tion;

- re­quired fi­nan­cial re­ports for pro­vin­cial lot­tery li­cens­ing were be­ing sub­mit­ted late or not at all. The li­cens­ing au­di­tor po­si­tion was va­cant for more than four years, re­sult­ing in fi­nan­cial re­ports not be­ing prop­erly re­viewed and fi­nan­cial au­dits not oc­cur­ring. On­site in­spec­tions were not be­ing per­formed and there were in­stances of lot­ter­ies op­er­at­ing with­out a li­cence;

- the cost of re­plac­ing all gov­ern­ment build­ings was found to have al­most dou­bled since 2004 - from $1.03 bil­lion to $1.94 bil­lion - and in­com­plete rat­ings for build­ing con­di­tions were found for 478 of 854 gov­ern­ment-owned prop­er­ties;

- the Royal New­found­land Con­stab­u­lary could tighten up com­pli­ance with firearms pol­icy. Among the con­cerns were in­ad­e­quate stor­age locker se­cu­rity and an in­ac­cu­rate firearms and mu­ni­tions in­ven­tory sys­tem;

- bet­ter records need to be kept on the ju­nior ex­plo­ration as­sis­tance pro­gram, a grant pro­gram for small min­eral ex­plo­ration and de­vel­op­ment com­pa­nies val­ued at about $2.4 mil­lion;

- some spend­ing at three pro­vin­cial com­mod­ity boards - reg­u­lat­ing pro­duc­tion, pro­cess­ing and mar­ket­ing of eggs, milk and chicken - were high­lighted as “in­ap­pro­pri­ate use of board funds;”

- the prov­ince has no solid plan on how to com­plete the Trans-labrador High­way. Ques­tions were also raised about how the route was cho­sen and why some con­tracts for paving work were ex­tended mul­ti­ple times. As well, the Public Ten­der­ing Act wasn’t fol­lowed in a cou­ple of cases;

- twenty-seven com­pa­nies who re­ceived grants from the Grow­ing For­ward agri­cul­ture pro­gram were re­viewed and there were inconsiste­ncies in project ap­proval, fol­low-up over­sight and com­ple­tion of pa­per­work;

- a num­ber is­sues with Work­place Health and Safety, in­clud­ing a lack a clear guide­lines to sup­port in­spec­tors in en­forc­ing or­ders when there are less se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions. There were also in­stances where im­por­tant fol­low-up in­ves­ti­ga­tions were not con­ducted.

Wayne Loveys

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