The CBC recently broke the story that Nalcor had awarded a multimillion dollar Muskrat Falls construction contract to a company from Quebec called Opron - controlled by a well known Montreal construction figure – Mr Joe Borsellino.
Opron Construction showed up on Nalcor's approved bidders list in February 2013; the CBC story reported “the same month Giuseppe Borsellino testified at Quebec's Charbonneau commission that he and his cousin were 51 per cent owners of the firm.”
Let’s go to his appearance before the Charbonneau Commission into criminal activity in Quebec’s construction industry:
“For two days, the construction boss caught on video delivering cash to the headquarters of the Rizzuto crime family has lurked in the back row of the Charbonneau inquiry, watching another witness, Joe Borsellino, confess to bribing public officials while playing down links to the mob.
Mr. Borsellino has proven a difficult witness..... In one instance that angered commission counsel, he could not remember depositing $1.8-million into a bank account until deposit slips were produced.” - Globe and Mail February 6, 2013
“Borsellino's name has been mentioned…most notably by city of Montreal engineer Gilles Surprenant, who alleged that the construction boss handed him tens of thousands of dollars in illegal kickbacks.” - The Montreal Gazette 02.03.2013
“Nalcor Energy placed…Opron Construction…on it bidders list. The company is now facing more than a dozen lawsuits in Newfoundland and Labrador, for allegedly not paying millions of dollars to subcontractors it hired to help do that work. Those claims have not been proven in court.”- CBC NEWS June 4, 2015
CEO Ed Martin: “Opron’s work on the project in Labrador is complete, and to Nalcor’s satisfaction…we did a thorough analysis…things that have happened elsewhere can’t happen here.” - The Telegram June 4, 2015
No condition is as demoralizing or as corrosive, in civil society, as corruption.
Equally, corruption can find no greater manifestation than that represented by organized crime.
Whether gangsters engage in the drug trade, in our construction industry, or in the hallowed halls of government, where billions of dollars are doled out annually for projects and services, the impact of their dealings are deeply felt across our institutions; it affects us on a personal level, too.
Politics represents plenty of dirty laundry at the best of times. Legislation, like the Public Tender Act, together with oversight agencies like the Office of the Auditor General, have helped infuse our culture with a small layer of trust; though we ought to know that trust is not shared everywhere.
Indeed, there are very few places in the world where people expect integrity and honesty to be the guide posts underpinning democratic government.
Our very own history, and knowledge of ingrained corruption from Italy to China, and closer to home, from Chicago to Montreal, should keep us mindful that only constant vigilence of the public trust separates decent government from a crooked one.
While public cynicism needs little fuel to foster the belief that politics is rotten, true organized corruption is a big step up and like cancer when it takes hold, it is difficult to root out.
So poor governance is not just about excessive public spending, high taxation or weak leadership.
The greatest risk occurs when politicians allow partisanship, greed, cronyism and nepotism to degrade government oversight practices – providing the window of opportunity through which organized corruption crawls in, as in when elected politicians or senior public servants say – does it really matter who does the work as long as it gets done?
It is compounded when institutions like the Office of Auditor General won’t act when verification of integrity is needed.
Society is placed further at risk when Opposition Parties are unwilling to perform their constitutionally mandated role.
This is the case, even more, when a supine media chases market share at the expense of persistent and wise analysis, ever content they will not be challenged; although local CBC does deserve credit for breaking the Opron/Borsellino story.
Nalcor’s response to news they had issued a $10-20 million Muskrat Falls contract to Opron Construction has left many people bewildered.
Not since the shooting death of Don Dunphy, by a member of the Premier’s security detail, have so many individuals uttered studied concern that Nalcor is out of control.
If Ed Martin and Gil Bennett, having courted sharks, think glib reasons for their choice resonates with decent people, they display an incomparable level of ignorance and disrespect for lawful society. Their justifications and self-aggrandizing clap trap exhibit nothing less than a rejection of the values that underlie civil government.
On June 4, 2015 Gil Bennett told the St John’s CBC:
"Following (a) rigorous process, Opron Construction was the best-value, compliant bidder meeting all technical and commercial conditions of the contract to supply and install the administrative buildings at Muskrat Falls site,"
Is this not akin to hiring the services of Al Capone for crowd control and justifying the arrangement this way: we did a deal with the mafia, but so what; it was a straightforward business deal! They did a good job didn’t they?
Bennett’s comment has an air of familiarity. Justice Charbonneau accused Borsellino of trying to intimidate a competitor, one newspaper reported. “Intimidation is not the word I would use,” Mr. Borsellino said. “It’s business.”
Have Martin and Bennett not opened the door to a group we simply do not want to see in our society?
Is this their idea of acceptable business practice? Is this how business is to be done in the new NL?
It is bad enough that Nalcor is already not subject to the Public Tender Act, to transparency rules, or to independent oversight.
Must we also ignore the possibility that the unfettered “licence” Nalcor has been given to spend public money might result in the opportunity for politicians and senior bureaucrats, unable to resist, as in Quebec, to line up for a share of side benefits?
Who out there in Muskrat Land thinks it no harm to take the odd gift? Who is on for a bit of “networking” - that’s the word used by Opron’s Joe Borsellino to describe to the Charbonneau Commission, according to a CBC story, why “he paid for a $50,000 Italian vacation for the head of the Quebec construction union and the former head of Montreal's public works department and their wives” and gave other gifts like “hockey tickets and expensive wine” to other officials.
The truth is the thin veil of trust in government, that hangs by a thread, is being allowed to wilt as these two men continue to head that Crown Corporation.
Had they apologized for their error, had they said, even, that an honest error had been made, and that steps had been taken to correct problems in the pre-qualification process, we might have thought them capable of recognizing that the public, and the whole Nalcor staff, need to know that the corporation is guided by strong values; values to which strict adherence is demanded.
They did not apparently possess that awareness.
They appear oblivious to the fact that unwise politicians have placed a level of faith in them that can find no parallel in the annals of NL government. The pair seem ignorant they have compounded the obvious “moral hazard” ethical issues at Nalcor by essentially arguing that dealing with Opron doesn’t matter- it’s business.
That is unacceptable. It is unforgivable, too.
Martin and Bennett should be unceremoniously marched out of the front door, if not for Nalcor’s management gaffe in choosing Opron, then for the values they espoused following the disclosure.
But, as heads of Nalcor they remain; the government apparently oblivious that anything is awry.
And this is Mr Martin’s second offence – his acceptance of the under arrest SNC Lavalin CEO Pierre Duhaime’s assurance that he has nothing to worry about at SNC Lavalin; that judgment having already landed him in the Business Hall of Fame – “Too Blind to See” division.
And where is Andrew Parsons, the Official Opposition critic for Justice?
Is he, like Liberal Leader Dwight Ball, too preoccupied with the next election to worry that a project supposedly supported by a majority of the population may, unknown to that public, be infiltrated by unsavoury characters with mafia links?
Where is Julia Mullaley, Clerk of the Executive Council, Chief of the Muskrat Falls Oversight Committee? Having been given the mandate and having held herself out as responsible for “oversight”, is she merely a stooge for Ed Martin?
Does “oversight” not include the sense of smell?
But even those examples of egregious neglect cannot equate to the inability of the Premier to show leadership.
He is a former police officer, ostensibly a person who understands the influence of the Al Capone’s of the world, the societal dregs whose only claim to fame is their wanton disregard for the rule of law.
"I was troubled by it" was the Premier’s only response.
No one thought to ask if he was troubled enough to act or what, exactly, he has done or intends to do.
Nearly two weeks have passed. He has said, or apparently done, nothing more.
Some Premier. Some Cop.
Perhaps, for him, as for Ed Martin and Gil Bennett, it’s all just business!