Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

The federal government is launching a vast hunt to flush out subcontractors who abuse the public contract system. In the wake of the ArriveCan affair, Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, promises to keep an eye on subcontractors who wish to do business with the government.

Federal contracts: fraudsters in Ottawa's sights

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The Minister of Public Services and Procurement, Jean-Yves Duclos, is Daniel Thibeault's guest on the show “Les corridors of power.

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The announcement is enough to capture the imagination. A fraud uncovered last Wednesday by Ottawa revealed that three technology sector consultants billed 36 different federal departments and agencies for the same hours worked on the same files.

This five million dollar fraud highlights flaws in the government procurement system and blind spots in the contracting process.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">In an interview on the show Les Coulisses du Pouvoir, Minister Jean-Yves Duclos emphasizes that it is a small portion of the government's external contracts that would be involved in this fraud. Nearly a dozen other cases are already in the sights of its officials.

They [citizens] are right to be shocked. We are all shocked, we are all angry. We would like these cases not to exist, but they unfortunately exist, because that's how human nature works.

A quote from Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Public Services and Supply

Internal investigations into these alleged cases of fraud began several years ago. These have nothing to do with Auditor General Karen Hogan's devastating report regarding the management of external contracts surrounding the design of the ArriveCan application, even though the Ministry of Public Services and Procurement has been involved.

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If Jean-Yves Duclos' announcement may seem like a public relations or crisis management exercise, professor and public administration specialist Denis Saint-Martin believes that the search for a good publicity stunt and a good public policy are not incompatible.

All the better if it sounds like a witch hunt, which is what it should be. It has to be the kind of […] sword move that ensures that all those who are used to flouting the rules know that there is a sword of Damocles at- above [their heads]. This is not bad in times of crisis.

A quote from Denis Saint-Martin, professor in the political science department at the University of Montreal

The results of internal investigations into the three consultants involved in this five million fraud, whose security clearance was suspended, were transferred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The federal government has also taken steps to recover the amounts overpaid.

The take announced last week may seem modest, i.e. three transactions of worth five million dollars of the 400,000 contracts worth $35 billion awarded by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) in 2023.

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Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Public Services and Procurement

However, Minister Duclos denies exaggerating its scale. No, we don't make too much of it. You have to do whatever it takes […] to find them all. It requires a lot of work, but it is essential for […] the confidence of Canadians.

He admits, however, that we must avoid generalize the situation to all businesses that do business with Ottawa.

These are bad apples in a very big basket of apples. We must avoid believing that the whole basket is rotten.

A quote from Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Public Services and Supply

The fact that 36 ministries were affected by this fraud underlines the strong tendency of ministries to still work in silos, judge Denis Saint-Martin. According to him, this is an element that ultimately needs to be worked on.

The professor also underlines the importance of accountability mechanisms accounts to avoid falling into the black hole of accountability.

It was a denunciation via a telephone line that put PSPC on the trail of fraudsters. Then, advanced data analysis techniques allowed him to note that the three consultants had invoiced the same hours of work to several ministries.

L Artificial intelligence is one of the new tools available to investigators. Without it, it is difficult – if not impossible – to compile, cross-reference and analyze data related to hundreds of thousands of federal contracts.

If artificial intelligence can be a tool, it can prove counterproductive, according to Professor Saint-Martin.

Algorithms can help civil servants looking for clues, but also contractors trying to circumvent the rules.

Among the other tools the ministry relies on to keep tabs on suppliers is the Office of Supplier Integrity and Compliance (BICF). It will see the light of day next May.

The mission of the BICF and its future employees is to ensure that the federal government does not do business with suppliers exhibiting concerning behavior. To do this, the office will have the ability to detect fraud and wrongdoing related to federal procurement.

It may take measures such as suspending or removing a supplier, in the absence of prosecution or accusation, and collaborate with other jurisdictions such as Quebec or the United States, according to information provided during a technical briefing.

If the pandemic caused an electric shock which accelerated the digital efforts of the public administration, according to Denis Saint-Martin, the episode above all tested the public service in an emergency situation. Good public administration and the concept of emergency are incompatible, he adds.

However, the professor sees a possible return of the pendulum where almost systematic external subcontracting – a way of doing things that dates back to the 1990s – would be gradually replaced by more work from internal civil servants.

No one likes bureaucracy. Then, when scandals like that happen, it's sure that it's easy to sugarcoat the backs of bad officials, declares Denis Saint-Martin.

He adds: These are tough times to go through, but some would say that these are golden files and opportunities to really work hard.

Minister Duclos' interview will be broadcast inThe Behind the Scenes of Power< em> at 11h, Sunday, on ICIRDI and HERE TV.

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