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Limited value in tabled Muskrat Falls reports: opposition

A public inquiry into the Muskrat Falls project is designed to examine many aspects of the $12.7-billion hydroelectric project.
Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project - file photo

Inquiry to go through contracting; forensic audit still option

Two years’ worth of reports on purchase orders and contracting for Nalcor Energy’s Lower Churchill Project, tabled in the House of Assembly earlier this month, don’t amount to much in the way of clear and useful information, according to interim NDP leader Lorraine Michael.

“You have the name of a company. You don’t know what it’s about. You don’t know if that work has been done before. There’s nothing,” she said Monday when asked about the reports. “It’s so minimal it was almost ludicrous to even have it tabled.”

The entries are unclear in many cases. For example, a person might not know a purchase of “construction onboarding tokens” is for safety-related items, namely flashlights.

Michael said she was hoping the reporting would ultimately look more like monthly procurement reports out of the Government Purchasing Agency. Those documents offer a tender number, description of the item or service, an award date and contract amount. It gives more of a sense of time, scale and what needs to be followed up on, all in one place, she said.

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Nalcor Energy’s work is not subject to the Public Tender Act. The Energy Corporation Act does require reporting by Nalcor to the minister and ultimately the House of Assembly on activities, stating “a summary of contracts” and supplier names.

Reports for Lower Churchill project activities for the last two years were tabled only after the New Democrats noted they had not been put to the House to date, while they were on Nalcor’s website. While Michael said she believes documents tabled meet the letter of the law, she remains disappointed in how little information is conveyed.

Progressive Conservative MHA and critic Keith Hutchings said the reports are not enough on their own, suggesting oversight reporting is part of transparency. He remains critical of the period the Liberals allowed without public oversight reports being issued on the hydroelectric megaproject.

“I think to really understand what transpired or what the actual contracts are for, they would need to be broken down much clearer,” Hutchings said of the purchase order and contracting reports tabled. “And we had the issue of embedded contractors that came up and what they would mean and the moneys for those. So it’s very hard to decipher what’s in those actual documents.”

Independent MHA Paul Lane said the lack of tabling of the reports before now is a symptom of “loosey goosey” oversight of Nalcor Energy and the Muskrat Falls project by both the current Liberal government and the past Progressive Conservative government, regardless of any recent improvements.

“I don’t think they ever did have the appropriate controls in place,” he said.

The NDP, Progressive Conservatives and Independent members all support a forensic audit of the Lower Churchill Project books. Michael and Hutchings both suggested an audit prior to now could have helped focus the upcoming public inquiry, set to get underway in 2018.

In its own follow-up on documents tabled, The Telegram requested more information on select entries, plus copies of 13 different assessments and reports referenced. As it turns out, many entries were included only because the related accounts had not been closed out in the record keeping system.

An entry for “Independent Supply Decision Review (Navigant),” with the contractor being Toronto-based Navigant Consulting Ltd., for example, was for a report completed in 2011 and used in the public discussion on whether or not the province should sanction the project.

At least five entries that were requested by The Telegram were for reports completed in the 2009 to 2012 time frame.

Other entries lacked simple, clarifying specifics. In the July 1, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2016 filing, for example, there are entries for “air transportation for canine search” and “canine search at Muskrat Falls site,” with contractors Evasion Air Elite and Industrial Security Ltd. They were for a drug search.

“(The) Lower Churchill Project has numerous safety operations and procedures in place to ensure the safety of workers on the work sites is maintained. One of these measures is to make sure the work sites are free from drugs and to conduct drug searches to that effect,” a spokeswoman stated in response to inquiries.

Including transportation cost, dog and dog handler, she noted the total cost was $51,600.

The corporation is not releasing search details. The Telegram was told this is in keeping with project security protocols.

Another entry marked room rentals in October 2016 at the Holiday Inn in St. John’s was due to on-site protests. The spending covered eight people for 16 nights, although this much was not mentioned in the entry.

The reports do record some interactions between Nalcor Energy’s lines of business. For example, in January to June 2016, an entry covers the stay at a residence in Churchill Falls for individuals contracted to work on the Lower Churchill Project. It turns out they were working on the transmission line between Churchill Falls and Muskrat Falls. Nalcor Energy-Churchill Falls was paid by Nalcor Energy-Lower Churchill Project for the stay.

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