Friday, December 11, 2009

Investigation at Public Works...but no details permitted

Once again, an example of the Harper government in action that calls into question their commitment to some basic democratic principles such as transparency and access to information: "Public Works reveals 'wrongdoing' after probe." We learn, because the government finally deigned to tell us, the following, but don't ask any questions about it, it's a Kafkaesque enigma that apparently we'll just have to trust them on:
The whistle blower, according to the government, made founded allegations that an employee at Public Works and Government Services Canada “was in a conflict of interest position as a result of a relationship with a private sector firm that was doing business with PWGSC.”

The whistle blower also alleged “there was favouritism in awarding that firm contracts through a standing offer,” which is a system under which a company can get a large number of federal contracts after qualifying as a supplier. The value of the contracts now under review is in the $400,000 range.

In the statement posted on its website, Public Works said that “disciplinary measures were invoked and the employee is no longer employed by PWGSC.” In addition, the government said it is reviewing past contracts obtained by the company to determine whether it provided value for money to taxpayers.

A Public Works official refused to provide the name of the employee or of the company involved in the investigation. Public Works said on its website yesterday that it is in the process of “finalizing a guideline on ‘Ethical Relationships' between employees, vendors and suppliers.”
I can't even confirm or deny that there is an investigation, or even discuss under what law I'm not allowed to talk,” a government official said last month. The silence emanating from Public Works was in sharp contrast to previous instances when the department boasted that it had referred matters to the police, as it frequently did at the time of the sponsorship scandal. (emphasis added)
The poor official can't even discuss "under what law I'm not allowed to talk." That has to be a nominee for a quote of the year, somewhere. So, I think there are at least a few questions here...

The value of the contracts under review is in the $400,000 range. Is that a sum total of the value that's at issue or is it that each contract is in the $400,000 range? And how many "past contracts" and over how many years is this thought to have been occurring? This is described in the piece as a "massive investigation" after all, there must be more to it than $400,000. And note the reference to the sponsorship scandal above. Imagine if that had been completely swept under the rug in the manner that the Conservatives are trying to do here, for some reason.

Why are we not entitled to know the name of the employee or the outside company? What's with all the hush hush? This is still a democracy, right? We want to protect whistleblowers, yes, under Public Service legislation, but that doesn't mean the government gets to escape all accountability by completely hiding details which give a sense of the wrongdoing, who was at fault, how it occurred, how has the problem been fixed, etc., etc., etc. Did the dismissed employee have ties to the Harper government? Or does the outside private sector firm at issue have ties to the Harper government? Is that why all the secrecy? If we aren't told, how are we to know? The flimsy, courtesy after-the-fact disclosure of vague details doesn't permit any legitimate scrutiny.