1 866-840-5837

waste abuse fraud

A very significant number that Winnipeg 311 is still not aware of

Yesterday I wrote a post about a couple of witnesses that apparently have come forward (according to media reports), to police with information about possible corruption at City Hall, the Civic Service or both.

That  post prompted one of my readers to send me an email about an incident involving the City that he felt was inappropriate  in terms of the bidding process.  In his mind it was at the very least wasteful.  This prompted him to ask the question:

“Who do I tell ???? Not like there is anyone willing to listen.”

That brought to mind a previous post I wrote about the City of Winnipeg Fraud and Waste Hotline.

Thinking that the Fraud and Waste Hotline might be a good point of contact for my reader I called Winnipeg 311 and asked for the phone number for the City of Winnipeg Fraud and Waste Hotline.  The long and the short of this inquiry was that the result I got was the same as that obtained by the Free Press when they made the same inquiry in September of this year.  311 was not aware of the existence of such a hotline and as a consequence did not have the phone number.

What should one conclude from the fact that even after the Free Press made the same inquiry some 3 months ago and exposed the fact that 311 did not have available vital information that the public is entitled to and that after the passage of three months no steps have been taken to address that issue?  I suppose there are a number of inferences that could be drawn.  The first is that 311 supervisors and managerial staff are either incompetent or don’t care.  Surely if they were competent or cared they would have taken some action after the embarrassment caused by the aforementioned Free Press article.  The second inference is that 311 staff and management do care and want to do the right thing (which is the sense I got when I called them today) but are being stifled or muzzled by the administration in terms of the information they have available to them and that they are allowed to give out to the public.  This second scenario, were it the case, would be of greater concern than the first.

No wonder the uptake by civic employees and members of the public has been so low in terms of calls to the hotline.  Most don’t know about its existence and those that do are not familiar with the contact information.

People cannot call a hotline when the very existence of such a hotline is suppressed and the contact information is not available to civic employees or the public.

I urge everyone to contact our new mayor and their respective members of council and ask them to do the right thing.  If we are serious about fraud and waste at City Hall there needs to be both an internal and external education program in terms of what constitutes fraud and waste.  As well, the process to bring such information forward must be clearly outlined and the contact information must be readily available.

So let’s start down that road.  The City of Winnipeg has entered into an agreement with a company call Clearview Connects, a third party confidential reporting service that will receive and document  information about possible fraud or waste as it relates to the City of Winnipeg.  Reports can be made both through the internet at Clearview Connects or via telephone.  The telephone numbers are:

Civic Employees                     1 877-319-5186

Members of the Public          1 866-840-5837

 

 

The Whistle Blew, Was Anyone Listening

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We know from the Quebec experience that even in a sophisticated developed country like Canada, some politicians at the municipal level engage in fraudulent activities for personal gain.

Over the years some Winnipeg contractors have bemoaned the fact that some company owners and contractors have had a too close and cosy relationship with civic politicians and senior civil servants in the area of property development.

A parcel of land may have a very low value based on how it is zoned.  If a zoning change or variance can be obtained the price of a given parcel of land can greatly increase in value overnight.

Zoning changes and variances are obtained through civic standing committees usually based on the advice of senior officials in the administration.

Then there is the whole issue of awarding city contracts which greatly broadens the field of play into areas such as  water and waste, road and building construction, snow clearing, garbage and recycling pickup and a host of other soft services such as consulting contracts which the city regularly enters into.

The problem has been that business owners and contractors have been  loath to come forward and file formal complaints because many rely heavily on city business for their livelihood.  They have not been confident that a complaint would result in the required changes, and they cannot afford to be black-balled.

Based on media reports it would appear that we are now in a position where a number of people with apparent knowledge of alleged wrong doing have come forward to police.  Naturally police need to establish the credibility of the individuals coming forward and  assess the validity and reliability of the information they are providing.  If the individuals are credible and the information passes the initial test, there would appear to be a basis to initiate an investigation.

Lets hope that the appropriate approaches were used to ensure this matter was dealt with properly and that an opportunity was not lost.

Corruption at any level of government undermines both democratic principles and the workings of a  free market economy.  All available steps must be taken to investigate and prosecute corruption.

The Disgraced Mayors Serving Set

“Essential for every shameful occasion”
Disgraced Mayors

Last year Rick Mercer unveiled the Disgraced Mayors Serving Set.

It  featured former London Mayor Joe Fontana, former Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay,  former Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt,  and Toronto’s disgraced but still serving mayor, Rob Ford.

At that time Mayor Sam Katz received only an honorable mention as a “soon to be disgraced mayor”.

I think we should all contact  Mr. Mercer and urge him to reconsider his rankings for the next,  Disgraced Mayor Serving Set.

We should demand that our mayor’s status be elevated from ‘soon to be disgraced’ to ‘disgraced’.

I think he has earned it.

 

*Update    Sam Katz did not stand for reelection in the fall of 2014

A Sinking Ship, A $10.00 House and Phil Sheegle

Councillors Leave EPC

In the last year 1 councilor abandoned his position on EPC and now another 2 have announced their intention to leave.  That brings to mind the following one liner:  I’ve never seen this number of rats jumping off a ship unless it was sinking or on fire”.

Mayor’s house purchase in Arizona

Re Mayor Katz’s purchase  of a house in Scottsdale Arizona for 10 dollars and ‘other valuation consideration’.  Until such time as the Mayor explains what that other valuable consideration was we should not conclude that it did not involve Shindico.

Phil Sheegl’s qualifications to be CAO

Back when Phil Sheegl was named CAO the Mayor made the following comment when Sheegl’s qualifications were questioned by Councillor Jenny Gerbasi.

“When it comes to ability, intelligence and integrity, Coun. Gerbasi wouldn’t even qualify to be in the same building, let alone the same room, as Phil Sheegl”.

Well, they are no longer in the same room or  even the same building.  Councillor Gerbasi is still in the same room (council chamber) in the same building (city hall) but Phil Sheegl is long gone, having decided to leave the building first.  Last laugh definitely goes to Councillor Gerbasi.    As one of my high school teachers used to say ‘he who laughs last laughs best’.

Police Headquarters Cost Overruns

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Don’t you just hate it when you are right but being right means that something went drastically wrong and it is going to cost you more money?

Back on Dec. 12, 2009 I wrote a blog post  questioning the wisdom of abandoning a 45-year-old building that had just been refurbished to  purchase a 55-year-old building and refurbishing it as the headquarters  for the Winnipeg Police Service.

The following is a quote from that post:

The current plan calls for the city to develop approximately half a million square feet of space for police use at a cost of $135 million:  $30 million to purchase the building and another $105 million to do the upgrades.  There are some important unanswered questions hanging in the air.  Anyone who has restored an old building, or watched This Old House, knows that when you revive old buildings they can become money pits. Does buying and restoring a 55 year old building to replace a 45 year old building (PSB), the interior of which has been recently and extensively upgraded, make good sense from a practical business perspective?   Were other options considered?  Can this project be brought in on budget or is there a risk that this project will become a public money pit with Winnipeg taxpayers footing the bill?

It did not take long for the money pit scenario to take form.  The original cost projections of $135 million which formed the basis for approval of the project were quickly revised.  The cost projection went from $130 million to $180 million in the blink of an eye.  Whats more, no one seemed to bat an eye.  It was as if those in the know knew this was coming.  Can you say ‘bait and switch”?

The latest cost projection  puts the cost at around $200 million  and quite possibly even that number should be taken with a grain of salt.

How is it that a retired cop with limited background in real-estate and construction was able to see a potential disaster in the making and the tall foreheads at city hall, the experts in this field, did not?

What has become crystal clear is the New PSB has become a money pit and as usual,  the citizens of Winnipeg will be left holding the  bag,  again.

Municipal Corruption

With everything that is going on in this city some may be too busy to do research so I have reproduced here for easy reference Section 123 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

123. Municipal corruption

123. (1) Every one is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years who directly or indirectly gives, offers or agrees to give or offer to a municipal official or to anyone for the benefit of a municipal official — or, being a municipal official, directly or indirectly demands, accepts or offers or agrees to accept from any person for themselves or another person — a loan, reward, advantage or benefit of any kind as consideration for the official

(a) to abstain from voting at a meeting of the municipal council or a committee of the council;

(b) to vote in favour of or against a measure, motion or resolution;

(c) to aid in procuring or preventing the adoption of a measure, motion or resolution; or

(d) to perform or fail to perform an official act.

Influencing municipal official

(2) Every one is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years who influences or attempts to influence a municipal official to do anything mentioned in paragraphs (1)(a) to (d) by

(a) suppression of the truth, in the case of a person who is under a duty to disclose the truth;

(b) threats or deceit; or

(c) any unlawful means.

Definition of “municipal official”

(3) In this section, “municipal official” means a member of a municipal council or a person who holds an office under a municipal government.

R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 123; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 16; 2007, c. 13, s. 6.

The Plight of I Can’t Speak

I try not to regurgitate past posts but with the current goings on at City Hall  I thought this previous post might be of interest.

 

A variation on the Three Wise Monkeys Theme

I was surprised by the number of emails and phone calls  I received after posting the Three Wise Monkeys cartoon yesterday.  Winnipegers are quite willing to guess at the “Who Am I” questions.  There is a high level  of agreement as to who the best candidates are at City Hall for  “I see nothing” and “I hear nothing”.

I also ran across another image that  attempts to answer the question of what causes poor hearing, eye sight and the inability to speak within bureaucracies.  It is very revealing.

On a more serious note (if that is possible), it  caused me to ponder the predicament that “I cannot speak” (aka the city employee),  is in.  The province has whistle blower legislation in the form of The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistle Blower Protection) Act to protect provincial employees who in good faith bring forward instances of wrong doing.  The City of Winnipeg has not enacted similar legislation at the municipal level, essentially leaving city employees who wish to expose possible wrong doing, frankly, exposed.

In July of 2006 the  CAO of the City of Winnipeg approved the Fraud, Theft or Related Irregularities Standard which applies to all civic employees.  This standard was introduced in recognition that fraud, theft and unethical behavior is an issue within municipal administrations.  The Standard requires that an employee who becomes aware of any incidents of fraud or a violation of the code of conduct must report such incidents to their manager or supervisor.  What is missing of course is protection for employees who do so.

In September of 2010 the City of Winnipeg Audit Department issued the  Fraud and Waste Hotline Research Study.

It would appear the impetus for this study was the lack of reporting as required under the City’s Fraud, Theft or Related Irregularities  Standard.  During the first 3 years after the  City introduced the Fraud, Theft or Related Irregularities Standard in 2006, a total of 3 reports were received, 2 in 2007, 1 in 2008 and none in 2009.  The audit report notes that:  None of the reports were in compliance with the administrative Standard as none of the reports were made to a supervisor or manager as directed by the standard. (p.7)

The report indicates that one of the most common forms of fraud within government and public administration are schemes related to corruption (p.5).  The audit report examined the reporting rates in several Canadian cities. Their review showed that between 2007 and 2009 Ottawa averaged 165, Calgary 50 , Edmonton 45,  Winnipeg 3. (p.10)

One important difference between Winnipeg and the other cited cities is that the other cities have instituted a Fraud and Waste Hotline which allows city employees to make their reports anonymously to a third party and not directly to their supervisor or manager.

The audit department concluded:   Some employees hesitate to report information regarding fraud or waste as they do not want to reveal their identity due to fears about potential retaliation for reporting a peer or manager. (p.7).  If employees live in fear of retaliation for reporting a peer or manager, imagine the level of fear that must  exist in terms of reporting a statutory or  elected official.  Another conclusion drawn is that  fraud and waste is  under reported in Winnipeg:   it is likely that a number of possible fraud and waste incidents are going unreported due to the requirements in the City of Winnipeg standard to report to the supervisor with no reference to anonymity. (p.10)

The Audit report  recommended that Winnipeg establish a Fraud and Waste Hotline managed by the Audit Department.

According to the City the process to create a Fraud and Waste Hotline is currently underway.

It is not known at this time if the City will also introduce whistle blower legislation at the same time.  It is difficult to imagine why they would not.  Whistle blower legislation would empower civic employees to be in a position to do the right thing and be protected.  The winners would be the taxpayers and all honest employees, managers, supervisors, officials and politicians.  The losers would be the dishonest ones.  And who can make such a change?  That would be the politicians, our city councillors.  And if they don’t make the change does that mean we should assume they see themselves as having something to lose? (Did I say that out loud?)

Until such time as the City introduces meaningful legislation to protect honest employees who are prepared to put it on the line, “irregularities” will continue to flourish at City Hall and throughout the civic service.  Why?  Because they can.