(Pt 2) Auditor’s Report On GTH: Not What We Asked For

If you read my previous blog post, you may have figured out I’m not impressed with the June 30th Saskatchewan auditor’s report on the Global Transportation Hub (GTH).

The following are a few samples, all taken directly from the document, of where, in my useless opinion, the report glosses over details it shouldn’t have; accepted statements at face value without actually, you know, auditing them, and contradicts itself.

You can read the whole report here, if you’re so inclined.

This report should have been clearer, and in no way accomplished what the auditor’s office was originally asked to do by Cabinet (though they’re likely not too disappointed):

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“followed appropriate procedures…”

Determining whether “appropriate“procedures were followed is a far cry from just determining whether procedures existed – because that’s what the auditor opted to do instead:

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“decided to assess…processes…”

That’s it.

This is highlighted from the outset with the auditor’s summation of her findings, found at the very beginning of the document:

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“…not enough was done to buy land in a financially responsible way” ….because delays.

If you have even a cursory understanding of this issue, you knew that already. We wanted to know why the land wasn’t purchased in a financially responsible way, and why those delays occurred, which we would have learned if the auditor had assessed the value (or appropriateness) of what went down.

To be fair, the report does go into a bit more detail about those delays, but when I say that important issues were glossed over, or too vague, this is a prime example:

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“active involvement of the GTH Chair/Minister (Bill Boyd)…” …no clear responsibility… “may have delayed decisions…”

That’s it?

Why was Bill Boyd actively involved in this purchase? Was that an “appropriate procedure”?

Why was there no clear responsibility in government around this deal?

Anyway, moving on to contradictions in the report:

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Except it was identified, in 2008…

…as this same report identifies a few pages earlier:

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“…connection between the proposed GTH” and new highway “…crossed east portion…

That seems like a fairly simple, but important, detail to get right.

Another contradiction – the auditor says no one was taking sufficient steps to manage this deal:

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“…none of them took sufficient steps…”

Really?

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Sounds rather sufficient. Efficient, even.

 

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June 2013: MHI senior official says “reasonable and defendable” for MHI to expropriate The Land for the GTH… Aug-Nov 2013: MHI prepares to buy/expropriate The Land.

So the auditor’s report says no one took sufficient steps to buy the land, then goes on to detail all the things the Ministry of Highways had been prepared to do (since 2008, really) to buy the land, right up until November 2013, a month before the deal was done by the GTH.

For example:

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“MHI obtained an appraisal”… seems sensible.

And then:

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Sound strategy for any real estate transaction, really.

But, sad trombone:

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Whoops. Landowner negotiations had been initiated, four months earlier.

Sorry, I can’t reconcile the notion that “no one” took sufficient steps to purchase this land when the same report details what appear to be very sufficient steps taken by the MHI, who were undermined by the parallel, and seemingly secret, negotiations initiated by Bill Boyd.

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“Sometime in the fall” when Boyd “took action” was presumably, um, August:

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August = Summer.

Regardless of why Boyd decided to go ahead and do this, he did.

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That’s adorable, because:

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The Saskatchewan government: keeping land appraisers busy in October 2013.

There’s not a word in this report about how no one – no officials, Cabinet, Ministers, a savvy administrative assistant, no one – knew the GTH and MHI were literally doing the exact same thing at the exact same time.

Not a word in the report about how much that bureaucratic duplicity on this transaction cost the taxpayer, a figure which should be tacked onto the $21 million we paid for it, or whether or not that duplicity was “appropriate procedure”.

Boyd asks one of his senior-advisors-who-didn’t-work-at-the-GTH to go knock on the landowner’s door.

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Surprise! The seller was interested in selling his land for a huge profit instead of having his land expropriated

Why would Boyd choose someone from his office – someone who the auditor makes a point of highlighting did not work with the GTH – to do the deal?

This one actually garners an answer in the report.

Because apparently Boyd, the guy who had been in charge of the GTH for the last two years, didn’t think the GTH was competent.

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The GTH – an inland port on the middle of the bald prairie, did not have a clear land acquisition strategy. Awesome.

No word from the auditor in the report, however, on the appropriateness of any of this.

Either way, I think the fact that the GTH Minister allegedly didn’t have faith in the GTH might have warranted more than one line in an audit of the GTH, no?

Finally, this heading, from the report, made me LOL:

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So the GTH boss directs the purchase of land for the GTH… outside of the GTH. Got it.

Weird, I wonder how they managed to spell ‘Secretly’ as “Handled Outside of the GTH”.

I’m going to stop there, because if you haven’t gotten the point by now, you won’t.

There’s a fundamental difference between what was asked for and what was investigated, and that should have been made clear from the moment the auditor’s report was released.

Which is how you ended up with headlines like this.

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“…report clears province…”

“…didn’t do a good job…”

“…paid too much…”

We knew all that already. Had the auditor’s office done what was asked in the first place, we’d know a hell of a lot more.

Good news – we still can. I’ll kick out Part 3 of this saga sometime soon, in which we examine who said what on the record, and how what they said correlates to what little information we do have in the auditor’s report.

Hint – it’s still going to be a long read.

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2 comments

  1. Here is a question that I think needs to be asked that I have not seen put forward yet. If the auditor was asked to answer what we do not know, not just comment on what we do, why did she not do that? Is the auditor truly incompetent or is she actually independent, free from political interference? That seem to be the next two ways of going from here.

    Few more questions. Does the auditor have to defend her report to a government committee or even better the opposition? Does the opposition care? Do the people of Sk even care? We are justifiably worried about a million or two here and there that has been cut from the budget yet no one seems to make the connection to the huge mess here. We lament our loss of oil revenue yet shrug our shoulders at a totally preventable, significant decrease in our governments ability to fund the services we depend on.

    Like

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