Thursday, July 25, 2013

BC Hydro using $24K fee threat to withhold SNC-Lavalin payments info

If you’ve been following Canadian news for the last few years, you probably heard of Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin and its troubles. 

The company has extensive operations in Vancouver, some of which only became apparent when the World Bank blacklisted SNC-Lavalin in April over corruption at infrastructure projects in Bangladesh and Cambodia. Here is my Business in Vancouver story

I also reported on how SNC-Lavalin announced a company-wide whistleblower amnesty, in an effort for it to root out corruption from the inside. 

SNC-Lavalin was given the contract to build the Evergreen Line, the SkyTrain extension to the Tri-Cities. It also was involved in the Canada Line, Sea-to-Sky Highway project, Canada Line, Bill Bennett Bridge and as one of the last sponsors to sign-on with VANOC for the 2010 Winter Olympics. It has ongoing contracts with BC Ferries and BC Hydro. (Check out Laila Yuile's blog for much more on SNC-Lavalin).

In 2011, its Operations and Maintenance division began a five-year outsourcing agreement for BC Hydro facilities management services. 

SNC-Lavalin was paid $40,091,145 by BC Hydro for the year-ended March 31, 2012. For the previous two fiscal years, it was paid a combined $76.1 million. 

I recently filed Freedom of Information requests to BC Hydro, to get lists of payments made by BC Hydro to SNC-Lavalin and vice versa since 2010. 

In response, BC Hydro wants me to pay a combined $23,368.47 to fulfil my stated request -- not including 6 cents a page for photocopying. (BC Hydro's FOI department stubbornly insists on photocopying and mailing or couriering instead of the 21st century method of scanning and emailing. Power Smart and Penny Foolish, perhaps?)

BC Hydro’s long-winded, pessimistic fee estimate letters are below. Two years ago, Premier Christy Clark issued an edict for open data and information across government. Certainly BC Hydro can follow the leader. Unless it is hiding something for some reason. 

These excessive fees that BC Hydro wants to charge remind me of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat-Vermont) and his Sept. 30, 1986 statement on the tendency of governments to threaten FOI requesters with big bills, in order to prevent information from being accessed by citizens.
"Indeed, experience suggests that agencies are most resistant to granting fee waivers when they suspect that the information sought may cast them in a less than flattering light or may lead to proposals to reform their practices. Yet that is precisely the type of information which the (Freedom of Information Act) is supposed to disclose, and agencies should not be allowed to use fees as an offensive weapon against requesters seeking access to Government information...."
Needless to say, I will be appealing BC Hydro's excessive fees.


Unknown said...

Who the hell is the BC Hydro manager looking after the contract with SNC-Lavalin? If that individual doesn't have or can't get such basic information without the level of effort described to you, then how can the contract possibly be managed effectively? That individual and whoever he or she reports to should be fired immediately for incompetence.

jenables said...

Hmmn, first of all, $70.95/hr?? What the shit is that? Pardon my French. Teehee. Can you request more detail as to why it's so much harder for the computer to search archived documents? I'm assuming they use some kind of multi platform sap, not to mention all that info should come right up under vendor, archived or not. Even more interesting how other "crown corporations" (I use that term loosely when talking about hydro) certainly don't forget about accounts receivable over 520 days.. lastly, we can only assume certain projects would be long term through that time period. If a project is ongoing, how can the information not be relevant and readily available. I'm so sick of these leeches!!45 ge

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