On Monday December 22nd 2014 some 20 months after creating the Fraud and Waste Hotline the City of Winnipeg Published the following communique:
For Immediate Release
Monday, December 22, 2014
Fraud & Waste Hotline
Recognize it. Report it.
Winnipeg, MB – The City of Winnipeg’s webpage has been updated to provide information and access to the Fraud & Waste Hotline. The Hotline is available to all citizens as a convenient and confidential way to report any observed or suspected fraud, theft or misuse involving City resources. Reports should be about a specific incident and should, to the extent possible, include the – “who, what, when and where.”
The Fraud & Waste Hotline is operated by an independent third party under contract with the Audit Department and is accessible by phone or internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To report an incident of suspected fraud or other inappropriate activity, please visit the Fraud & Waste Hotline online at clearviewconnects.com or by telephone at 1-866-840-5837. Information in reports can only be accessed by the Audit Department.
Additional information is available at City of Winnipeg – Audit Department.
There is no indication at this point that the City has taken any steps to internally publish the other Hotline number, 1 877-319-5186, which is intended for use by civic employees.
Although the City should be applauded for finally doing the right thing in terms of informing the public about the Fraud and Waste Hotline, they now need to address the other half of the equation which is to provide education and training to civic employees in terms of what constitutes fraud and waste. As well, they need to ensure that everyone understands that as employees they are under an obligation to report matters that are contrary to the best interests of the City.
Lastly, the City needs to introduce meaningful protection for employees who in good faith bring to the attention of the City for the purposes of investigation any instances of fraud or waste. Internal reporting of wrongdoing is a very difficult scenario and unless guarantees of protection exist employees will not come forward with such information.
If the City is serious about addressing the issue of fraud and waste it needs to enact whistle blower legislation to protect employees who come forward and report instances of fraud and waste. The half hearted approach outlined in Administrative Directive HR 008 is grossly inadequate and sends the wrong message to employees.
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
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.
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
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’.
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.