Friday, June 29, 2012

Does fairness monitor equal fancy monicker?

As the old proverb goes, all is fair in love and war. But is it fair in British Columbia government privatization?

The last week of June began spectacularly with the shocking Alex Tsakumis revelation of a 2003 Dave Basi memo-to-file that alleged Christy Clark (then Deputy Premier, now Premier) breached her oath of confidentiality. Yet another reason why a public inquiry into the BC Rail privatization scandal is a must.

The week ended with the British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union announcing a brief strike at three LDB sites, including headquarters in Vancouver. The BCGEU hit an impasse with the government on talks for a new government-wide contract and it says it is fighting back against LDB privatization. Meanwhile, there are serious questions about two ex-BCGEU executives who were lobbied by LDB privatization frontrunner Exel Logistics, but refused to do interviews.

The BCGEU strike notice was made June 29, the same day that bidding closed for the Distribution of Liquor Project. That's the fancy name given the controversial privatization of the LDB warehousing and distribution.

NDP critic Shane Simpson complained in a June 22 letter to George Macauley, the so-called fairness monitor who has a $74,900 contract to oversee the process. Simpson wanted Macauley to recommend the government postpone tendering until a business case is released, industry consulted and a replacement hired for LDB general manager Jay Chambers. Chambers drives away from his job as the head drink retailer in B.C. on July 6 to preside over the Motor Vehicle Sales Authority of B.C. Roger Bissoondatt will act as g.m. until a replacement is hired.

Simpson, who cited my May 8 story in Business in Vancouver during Question Period, already called the privatization "tainted" because of the cozy relationship between Exel Logistics, B.C. Liberal lobbyists Mark Jiles and Patrick Kinsella and the liquor minister, Rich Coleman.

Simpson got his answer from Macauley on June 25. In a nutshell: the Victoria lawyer and economist says he has no power to intervene, because of the terms of his contract that were set by the government. He is watching the process and making sure bidders follow the RFP requirements. He will submit a report next March, after the contract has been awarded. He can't do anything else.

This seems to contravene Coleman's answer to Simpson during the May 29 budget estimates committee hearing:
Simpson: (Does the fairness monitor) have any other authority to be able to direct the RFP process in any way if they have a concern during the process that they think…? You know, maybe it isn't anything major, but they have a concern, and they want to recommend or direct an adjustment in the process to keep it more balanced based on their view. Do they have authority or an ability to do that, and if so, how?
Coleman: Through the process, he has the ability to raise concerns, keep the balance, make recommendations — all of those things as the fairness monitor with regards to the process, if he has concerns.
Simpson: Who would he make those recommendations to? Would he make them to Mr. Chambers? Would he make them to the minister? Where would those recommendations go? Would they be expected to be of a private nature, or would it be of a more public nature?
Coleman: It's probably the project team or the two deputies that are responsible, which is probably the same thing.
A fairness monitor not empowered to ensure fairness is like a referee not allowed to blow a whistle or a linesman prohibited from raising a flag. Yet another reason to question the integrity of an already controversial process.

Coleman, the minister responsible, has not responded to any of my interview requests.

Read my story here in BIV and see Simpson's letter and Macauley's reply below.

NDP critic complains about integrity of LDB privatization

Response to Shane Simpson 2012-JUN-25

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