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.
Who will be the next Mini Me?
The Ernst and Young audit report on the fire halls fiasco has finally seen the light of day. It doesn’t look pretty and it emanates a distinctly unpleasant odor, an odor of rot festering in the political and administrative bowels of power at City Hall.
The report outlines a number of concerns that deal with administrative process and oversight but the most concerning issues identified (albeit process-related) strike at the very heart of the free enterprise system as well as citizen and business trust.
The city is not in a position to perform much of the work on projects it finances and thus hires contractors to perform those tasks. That process of hiring such contractors must be fair and equitable and put all bidders on an equal footing.
At the core of many municipal corruption scandals is the bypassing of such processes. Some bidders are given, or gain an unfair advantage by having access to confidential information not available to other bidders. According to the Ernst and Young report Shindico had such an advantage in the case at hand.
In most cases where one party gains an unfair advantage they will realize an increase in profits and reciprocate with some form of quid pro quo. Usually, when what amounts to industrial intelligence flows one way, kickbacks flow the other way. The Charbonneau Commission in Quebec emphasizes that point. The Ernst and Young report does not suggest there were any kickbacks in the fire halls fiasco.
Determination of whether there was any guid pro quo goes beyond the scope of an audit and would require an in-depth criminal investigation or a Commission of Inquiry. It would be highly unusual for any of the principals at the heart of an audit to come out and make a ‘mea culpa’ declaration.
What is Power?
Power is the ability to influence the actions of others. An example of the exercise of power could be a municipal mayor (Sam) who, when selecting a CAO, prevailing on the other members of the selection committee (EPC) to select the candidate of his choice. In such an instance the mayor does not have the authority to order members of EPC to take a particular position, but he, none the less has power as he controls appointments to the committee.
What is Authority?
Authority is the legal right to act. In the case at hand the CAO is given legal authority to undertake a wide variety of actions on behalf of the City under guidelines laid down by Council.
Concentration of Power and Authority
When Phil Sheegle was appointed CAO the Mayor bristled at the suggestion he was not qualified to perform the function. The Ernst and Young report suggests the mayor’s detractors were spot on. As well the mayor would have us believe that he and the former CAO, although they are close friends do not have discussions about city related issues like the fire hall fiasco and the related land swaps. Do these two buddies look like they hold much back from each other?
It is clear that when the mayor appoints a ‘mini me’ CAO there is a dangerous convergence of power and authority. It puts the mayor in the position wielding political power, as well as administrative authority by proxy.
The Next Mini Me
The mayor has already indicated that his choice to fill the CAO’s chair in an acting capacity is Deepak Joshi – yes the same Deepak Joshi named in the Ernst and Young Report. One would have hoped that the members of EPC would have learned from the last appointment that the mayor’s choice may not be the best choice. We cannot afford another mini me CAO.
What’s to be done?
It’s time that Winnipegers wake up to the realization that Mayor Katz may actually have been truthful when he said that he was a businessman and not a politician. The problem may be that he views the City of Winnipeg as his business, his own little fiefdom, putting in place cronies to help him run ‘his business’. That begs the question, to whose benefit is the city being run, the citizens’ benefit or the mayor’s benefit? To a degree we are all responsible for what is happening at City Hall: we elected Sam Katz, not once but several times. It may be time for like-minded people to get together and initiate a movement under the banner “ANYONE BUT SAM” and clean up the mess at City Hall.
Perhaps a better question would be, how much will it cost us and are we about to be “SAMMED” AGAIN?
During the 2010 civic election the Winnipeg Police Association endorsed Mayor Sam Katz. The announcement that the WPA was endorsing the Mayor coincidentally came on the same day that the Mayor announced he was adding 58 additional police and 19 staff positions to the Police Service complement. The timing was no doubt a coincidence (not) but it’s one of those coincidences that voters have come to expect when an incumbent is running for reelection.
Whenever unions support politicians there is some expectation that there will be a return on their investment. Sometimes it is favourable legislation, sometimes it is the creation of more positions which result in a direct benefit, in this case an increase in union dues (77 positions translates into approximately $40,000.00 in union dues – not exactly chump change). In Canada one does not necessarily think about politicians meeting in hotel rooms and receiving brown paper envelopes stuffed with cash (e.g. Karlheinz Schreiber and Brian Mulroney) as a common occurrence. Usually, at least in the cases that come to public attention it is less brazen. The fact remains that when politicians make deals in return for support in the form of an endorsement there is usually some form of quid pro quo. Something is given, something is received. Politics is not a zero sum game and politicians and their supporters are not totally altruistic. The unfortunate thing is that the residual losses required to offset the gains realized by the players (in this case the mayor and the union) are absorbed by the public.
The Winnipeg Police Association already received what many observers consider to be, at the very least, a “down payment” in return for their support – that being the addition of 77 dues paying union positions.
Further, the association has been advocating for years, without success, to amend the Winnipeg Police Regulations to allow for discipline records to be expunged. A few months ago the association received what could be viewed as a ‘second payment’. This time it was in the form of favourable legislation resulting in a change to the police regulations as it related to the expunging of discipline records.
Will the Winnipeg Police Association be receiving anything else?
They just might. In comments to the media the mayor said that police in Winnipeg are under paid and is quoted as saying, “I can guarantee none of us would do that job for what they get paid”. Well, perhaps the mayor wouldn’t (he has never struck me as police officer material), but I think many others would, as illustrated by the number of applicants for police positions. That comment coming from the lips of the mayor during a year when the City will be negotiating a contract with the Winnipeg Police Association could be worth a few bucks to the association.
With negotiations now at a deadlock, arbitration is just around the corner. I’m willing to wager (only with the approval of the Manitoba Lotteries Commission of course) that the Association’s lawyers will be using the mayor’s quote as the centerpiece in their attempt to justify a larger pay increase.
If that scenario were to play out and the arbitrator were to be persuaded to up the award by, say, a quarter to a half per cent, what would that cost taxpayers? Answer: in the range of $375,000.00 to $750,000.00, and that would just be in the first year. Wage awards, because they are cumulative, are gifts that keep on giving.
That begs the question: was the mayor’s comment a naive shot from the hip, a mere slip of the lip or did we just get SAMMED again?
The Winnipeg Police Service is requesting a change to the by law governing the retention of police discipline records. Once approved by Council, disciplinary records will be expunged after five years of discipline free performance.
The Winnipeg Police Association has been pushing for such a change for some time. What’s different about the current proposal is that it’s the Winnipeg Police Service advocating for such a change. The Winnipeg Police Association must have been in a position to use some leverage in order to persuade the Winnipeg Police Service to put forward this proposal.
Since the ruling in R. v. McNeil which required that the police turn over to the Crown disciplinary records for officers involved in criminal cases, police across the country have been attempting to find ways to avoid turning over such records. In other words they have been looking for a sure-fire loop-hole. Expunging police disciplinary records seems to be the answer.
The report submitted to EPC actually says that.
What is perhaps even more disturbing is the second portion of the proposed by law change that would require that an informal resolution process be considered in all disciplinary cases. Cases handled informally would not generate an entry on a discipline record and therefore would never be subject to disclosure. So the first part would expunge records that currently exist, and the second part would ensure few, if any, future entries on officers’ files.
To top it all off, according to a report in the Winnipeg Free Press the Chief of Police is apparently taking the position that because criminals can apply for a pardon after 5 years it only makes sense that police officers should have their records expunged after 5 years as well. Talk about lowering your level of expectations by comparing police officers to criminals. Whatever happened to the principle of expecting the very best from police officers and holding police officers to a higher standard? The Chief’s position on this is poorly thought out and just plain wrong.
It’s one thing for criminals to attempt to circumvent the intent of court rulings. No surprises there. We should, however, be entitled to expect more from our police.