Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Perception supersedes reality

WorkSafe BC is in the news again and Shirley Bond appointed part-time Ferry Commissioner Gord Macatee to review WSBC operations. This is a common government ploy: when one group of patronage puppies screws up, they dispatch a trusted insider to conduct a "review" and suggest improvements. Current WSBC Chair George Moffit has had much experience with these kinds of assignments but now, his organization is targeted.

Gord Macatee set up as a consultant after years as a senior bureaucrat. He worked at VANOC and took on the role of Ferry Commissioner, part of the bloated BC Ferries governance. It's a gig that pays 6-figures but allows opportunities for numerous other assignments. Although he resides in Victoria, Macatee is on the board of Vancouver's Providence Health Care, operator of St. Paul's Hospital and other public health facilities in the city. He's vice-chair of the Victoria Hospitals Foundation and has served on various boards of directors.

Macatee is hardly an independent, disinterested consultant. He's a trusted dependent of the Liberal Government, just as George Morfitt has been. Members of this small community of political beneficiaries are practiced at looking without seeing, at creating polite critiques that harm nobody of importance. This is one of the reasons that public institutions in BC are so inept; they are immune from real examination and real change. Essentially, they are grazing lands for people who are politically useful.

The rest of this piece is from November 2012.

A reader drew my attention to this article from 2.5 years ago. The principles are unchanged so I believe it is worth revisiting.

First published April 23, 2010, republished November 2012.

Sean Holman at PublicEye Online reported this April 20, 2010:
Former auditor general George Morfitt has picked up some contract work as a result of being a member of the provincial government's B.C. horse racing industry management committee. That six-person committee was launched in January to help "restore the the industry's financial strength." And now Mr. Morfitt has been hired by the government's gaming policy and enforcement branch to "offer advice from a point of view independent of the horse racing industry." This, according to a government spokesperson. The notice of intent to award that contract - which is worth up to $25,000 - was rolled out last Wednesday. Mr. Morfitt will also preside over administrative review hearings concerning issues such as the revocation of horse racing registration or a gaming license.
Morfitt is obviously a man of talent with expertise ranging from accounting and finance to public policy, horse racing, gambling, ferry operations, car sales, education, pharmaceuticals and public safety including installations involving electrical, gas, pressure vessels, elevating and amusement devices, railroads, etc. That he chooses to practice as a consultant in the public sector arises from his record of success. Success well earned, no doubt.

Firstly, I believe that government and its agencies spend far too much on consultants. Recently, BC Liberals granted huge pay raises to senior officers and civil servants, allegedly so public service could attract the best and the brightest. If indeed we employ so many highly paid experts in the civil service and ministerial offices, why do we spend so lavishly on consultants? And, why return to the same people over and over? Outside experts should be independent, not dependent.

Leaving that aside, I see a problem with Morfitt's activity in the public sector. It is work that should not be available to a former Auditor General. Citizens and MLAs have little opportunity to review government finance in even slight detail. So, we rely on the Auditor General, an officer of the Legislature, to independently investigate financial policies and practices of the government. This position is unique to all others.

George Morfitt completed two terms in this key position and, while he was well regarded, I find it troubling that anyone can act as Auditor-General, then retire to consult for the same government and its agencies. Those organizations were audit subjects and the auditor must always be free of conflict or appearance of it. No person should wonder if the officer shaped opinions or analyses to retain favor of the people with hands on the public purse.  Post-term consulting contracts might be seen as rewards for prior cooperation.

Again, I don't question Morfitt's competence or integrity. Fellowship was bestowed on him by fellow Chartered Accountants and that is a sign of distinction. However, professional accountants have struggled for years to refine practice rules to improve, among other things, public perception of their independence and professional integrity. In the last decade, numerous accounting frauds were attributed to pressure on auditors to report favorable numbers.  Some of those pressures resulted in ethical breaches, none more serious than the cases which led to  dissolution of one of the 'Big Five' accounting firms.  In reviewing a rush of audit fraud, CNN reported that one former corporate accountant said about his profession, "Early on in their career they learn to shave the truth."

Retired Auditors General should not contract with the governments they audited. Independence and credibility is vital to the role. There should be no suggestion, however remote, that post-retirement rewards might flow to a friendly and cooperative examiner.

George Morfitt has taken many provincial appointments and engagements over the past number of years. In one of those jobs, BC Liberals even tasked Morfitt with a role in reviewing the legislature's eight statutory officers, including Auditor General. I doubt a former officer, now a consultant, is going to be suggesting more restrictive rules for consultants.

This may not be exhaustive, but I list here examples of Morfitt's post-retirement engagements in the public sector:
  • WorkSafe BC, Vice Chair;
  • BC Safety Authority, Director
  • Motor Vehicle Sales Authority, Vice Chair;
  • Adjunct Professor, University of Victoria;
  • Consultant for Richmond, Airport, Vancouver Rapid Transit Project (2004)
  • Health Council of Canada, Councilor;
  • Capacity Development Network, Associate Director
  • Consultant regarding regulation of horse racing (2005);
  • Consultant for a comprehensive review of operational safety at BC Ferries;
  • BC Horse Racing Industry Management Committee, Member;
  • British Columbia pharmaceutical task force;
  • One of a four-member panel to review the legislature's eight statutory officers.
Just as private businesses develop strong systems of internal controls to limit potential for inappropriate behavior, so should government. Unhappily, there has grown a culture of entitlement that would shock public servants of bygone days. A generation ago, mandarins each expected one salary and one pension arrangement. Now, many collect varied forms of remuneration and expense allowances, part paid personally, other parts directed to personal corporations and partnerships, more difficult to track, of course. Pensions overlap with current earnings and occasionally one agency funds a large severance payment while another public agency hires that same person to a new arrangement.

Before the province forces layoff of hundreds of teachers, closure of tens of neighborhood schools and hospital surgeries and wards, let us resolve to first stop authorizing extravagant payments to senior executives and consultants.

Hard choices, Liberals. You guys said you were willing to make them.
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  1. never seen so many cowards as in gov/corpo today everywhere they are the scum of the earth

  2. Obvious that you step lightly on this subject but it's an important one.

    We've seen a large group of "experts" make themselves available to receive big cheques from government and that has become a predictable cycle, part of the benefits of holding high office in British Columbia. If you worked for government and say the right things at the right time, the money will continue to flow.

    Morfitt is simply one player in this large game. He knew what he could say, or could not say, before leaving public office without damaging his future prospects.

    It seems that Morfitt did not damage any future prospects when he held office.

  3. As long as there is gravy these potato heads will swim in it. I teach in an inner city elementary school and have watched special needs programs, counselors,teaching assistants ,cut while our superintendant negociated a 200,000 per year five year contract.Not to mention what Randy Hawes and his buddies did to a once stellar Mission Hospital. 40 percent of my students are on medication and live in poverty. If only these soulless assholes could realise what they have done just to make themselves rich.

  4. The so-called independents who judge public servants may themselves be not quite as independent as the pretend.

    It's time for future Premier Dix to ensure this situation will change.

    I imagine we'll hear silence instead. Mr. Dix, prove me wrong.

  5. You are in for a huge disappointment. Check out the Dix interview on Voice of BC. He soft pedals on all the issues except promising a public inquiry on the BC Rail sale of which Palmer gently scolds him. It’s kind of a “shucks, well I promised moment “. Dix thinks the blood sucker upper level bureaucrats are performing valuably and has no intention of cleaning house. I suspected this and this interview confirms that once again I have no one to vote for.

    1. Maybe the polls make him too comfortable and he's intending to exchange those Liberal blood suckers with his own NDP blood suckers.

      Or maybe, he knows that he needs the support of those people and must keep them happy.

      If Dix and co. want real change, they're not likely to reveal it until they're in power. Dix knows that anything remotely perceived as radical will be used by the other side. However, if I was part of the Green Party, I'd be making hay with the timidity of the NDP.

  6. "I'd be making hay with the timidity of the NDP." Agreed.

  7. "Allegedly to attract the best and brightest", pretty much says it all, moths to flame approach. Where did this approach come into play, for our "premier"?

    The problem being...the problems they are supposed to be solving, are getting far worse. We don't get value for dollar, and ultimately most of these folks, are attached to the current government, in one form or another.

    Gut the civil service unions, and make sure their friends are rewarded with huge pay increases. This crap has to stop. I don't know about you, but I'm not raking in the kind of coin, these clowns are making. Most people are having a tough time of it in this economy, and taxpayers in general, are tired of the feeding frenzy, this government has created, at the so called, public trough.

    Dix is playing his cards close to his chest. No use supplying a "dying" regime, with fodder to throw back at him and the NDP. One can only hope that the "light of reason" will prevail, and that some or all of this nonsense, will be stopped in the future.

    1. I agree with Dix keeping his cards close to his chest. The media is ready to pounce on whatever he lets out and will always be on the side of the Liberals. I don't think for one minute that a NDP government will be the same as this Liberal one.
      A vote for the Greens will ensure the Libs will get in again. Vote NDP if you want to get rid of the Liberal Party and their corrupted ways.

  8. Don't just vote. If you care who wins, get down to your local campaign office and volunteer your time and skills... or at least your money. Effect change by bringing 50 or 100 other voters along with you — especially those who are on the fence or on the couch. Feet on the street is likely something the BC Christy party will be sorely lacking in May. There's opportunity for other candidates, if they get mobilized.

    1. Smart comment. We should give proactive support to the group that provide us the best representation. The ruling parties, Liberals in Victoria, Tories in Ottawa, can (and do) put the squeeze on corporations that do business with government, extracting millions for campaigns. In addition, governments spend vast amounts of public funds on self-serving advertising. That creates vast disadvantages for opposition parties, which means that citizens must step up and write a few cheques.

  9. Norm, I see I messed up on the effect/affect word usage. Please edit my "Effect" to "AFFECT".


  10. Maybe Morfitt can explain how well his rescue of horse industry went. Or the line to the airport. How'd that already at capacity system work out the merchants destroyed on Cambie street, without compensation? More-Fat and friends got paid, innocent bystanders did not.

  11. I find it interesting that the origins of workmen's compensation in BC only predates by a few years the disbandment of the auditor general's office in 1917. This means that a compulsory, monopolistic insurance scheme, meant to protect workers' rights to a safe workplace, had seventy years to evolve practices out of line with their mandate under no effective oversight. By the 1990s, its reputation had become so bad that something serious needed to be done, so they changed their name.

    CEO, David Anderson's presentation to the AWCBC Congress in 2010 includes a seventy-four-page PDF comic book (I wonder how much it cost the workers?) in which he briefly recounts the corporation's spotty history then gloats at length about his success in turning things around. Now, WSBC is the model of probity, unless one takes into account practices they would rather be kept secret.

    If WSBC had been made-to-measure by powerful companies to provide reliably incompetent oversight and investigation of workplace procedures and incidents, things could hardly look much different than they do now. So incompetent is the investigations department, that they can botch the probe of a false claim in which the accused actually admits to fraud. This is funny, of course, unless you happen to be the whistleblower who loses his job, home and savings for having come forward as a witness.

    A few phone calls to WSBC's Jeff Dolan failed to clear up my questions on this subject. Instead I was told I would end up in jail if I didn't back off. Threatening a witness with jail? Love to see them try. In fact, I provided ample opportunity to pursue a real prosecution against me: I made a death threat against a crooked WSBC investigator. Jeff Dolan is so scared of what might surface, should I be charged, that he passed up his perfect chance to slap me down.

    If anyone knows a postal or email address for Gord Macatee, I would like to be sure he knows the score on this debacle.

    David Clausen



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