Letters to the Editor

Procurement policy problems?

Dear Editor,

In 2015, several residents of Ashcroft complained that the Village was sole-sourcing contracts for the critical stages of a costly water treatment plant. The Office of the Ombudsperson investigated and learned that work on several components of the project was awarded directly to Urban Systems without any evidence of an open and fair procurement process having taken place. The Village agreed to develop a policy on a priority basis and to apply the policy going forward to ensure consistent and fair procurement actions.

“Procurement that is fair, open and competitive,” the Ombudsperson pointed out, “supports open and transparent local government and helps ensure that local governments receive value for the tax dollars spent.”

It took four years, considerable provocation, and another intervention from the Ombudsperson to finally get a procurement policy drafted. Staff presented the procurement policy at July’s regular meeting. Council made no suggestions for edits or changes and the policy was approved and adopted at the last regular council meeting on August 26, 2019.

There is a catch. When asked, “Had the procurement policy been in place at the time water treatment upgrades were being considered, would the process and outcome have been different?” with no hesitation, the former Chief Administrative Officer answered with a definitive “No.”

Aye, there’s the rub!

In other words, the engineering firm Urban Systems would still have been engaged without any competitive or comparative process being involved. They would still have suggested the need to be proactive and build the facility. They would still have written up the Water Master Plan and assist the Village in its application for a government grant. They would still have controlled the bidding process for the construction and commissioning phases of the project. The proposed costs would have been the same.

You see there is a clause in the procurement guidelines that states, “Prior to any major capital project, the Village’s Engineering firm will provide a report to council advocating the need for the proposed project. Upon council’s approval, the Village’s Engineering firm will be appointed to assist with the project including the grant application/reporting, RFP process and to provide the necessary expertise to ensure the project is completed to industry standards.” The more expensive the proposal, the more the engineering firm makes. This is a conflict of interest.

Conservatively, Urban Systems will make over $1.2 million dollars on Ashcroft’s Water Treatment Plant proposal, approximately 15 per cent of the budgeted amount. And the company has undertaken multiple other projects for the Village.

Long-term sole-sourcing of any consulting or professional service leads to the Village becoming complacent and blindly accepting whatever is presented before them as necessary, inevitable, and advisable. I wonder if Village taxpayers are content, as council is, with the convenience of such an arrangement, and if they believe they are receiving value for the tax dollars spent?

Gloria Mertens

Ashcroft, B.C.


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