Transport Ministry fleeced when handing oversight to private firms
Published Thursday, April 24, 2014 10:50AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 24, 2014 9:02PM EDT
The Charbonneau Commission is revealing how negligence and a stunning lack of oversight by the Ministry of Transportation allowed construction and engineering firms to line their pockets with taxpayer money.
Andre Prud'homme of Quebec's order of engineers took the stand on Wednesday and Thursday to explain how, after severe budget cuts within the Ministry of Transport in the '90s, the Ministry often relied on private engineering firms to oversee public projects.
The government effectively turned over control of certain construction projects to engineering firms, and then just paid the bills as they came in without questioning the firms' decisions.
He said both the Ministries of Municipal Affairs and Transportation used this "unusual" procedure, and it allowed for "enormous" changes to contracts.
With little oversight, companies that were contracted and subcontracted to build projects for the provincial government would file multiple requests for modifications, each request accompanied by a bill for higher fees.
Prud'homme said if the Ministry was competent, it would have realized the demands for changes were not necessary, and that contractors were scamming the government.
He used the example of engineering firm BPR, and how it was tasked to oversee a project in St. Gilles with no government oversight.
"It’s well done. It’s well done because the only people who knew were the entrepreneur, it was BPR," said Prud'homme.
The companies actually doing the work filed more than 500 requests for modifications, each of which was rubber-stamped by BPR and government bureaucrats.
According to Prud'homme this resulted in three engineers from BPR embezzling $200,000, one of whom, Marie-Claude Gagnon, admitted her guilt to the Order of Engineers.
"We reiterate that there is no worksite foreman at the Transport Ministry. And in addition, the fact that Mrs. Gagnon had in her hands the complete power, financially and management of construction sites, and the financial management, she was free," said Prud'homme.
Police and the permanent anti-corruption squad are now looking at the case.
But why would the MTQ, one of the province's most powerful agency, allow such oversight and abuse by engineeers and contractors? Many MTQ staffers quit or retire, then get hired in the private sector. Paul-Andre Fournier left the MTQ to work for BPR.
Fournier shot down the notion he was rewarded for accommodating his new employer while at the MTQ.
But when Charbonneau asked about his occasional contacts with political staffers at the government, his memory went blank.
A year ago the Inquiry revealed that BPR was a member of a cartel controlling construction contracts in Montreal, and this week a former BPR employee, Jean D'Amours, was named a junior minister in the Couillard cabinet.
Earlier in the week witnesses told the Inquiry that a similar process was used for the Acadie Circle project, which saw costs ballon from $58 to $95 million without any questions being asked by the Ministry.