Friday, 3 June 2016

TIME TO REFLECT ON THE SEVERANCE ISSUE: WHOSE FAULT IS IT REALLY?

In the media frenzy over how Premier Dwight Ball handled Ed Martin’s $1.4 million severance, the spotlight on the real culprits seems to have been switched off.

It is obvious that Ball and his Natural Resources Minister have become embroiled in a web of untruths to extricate themselves from the political fallout of the debacle.

But in the race to parse who said what, to whom and when, the public and the media have forgotten, that beneath all the lies and half-truths, is the realty that Ed Martin used the Crown Corporation he led, helped by compliant friends on the Board of Directors, to enrich himself.

While a more savvy Premier would have dealt with the issue - and Ed Martin - differently it was, nevertheless, the responsibility of the Board, too, to protect the public interest. 

But nowhere in the confused and often sorry narrative of a failed CEO, an amateur Premier and his featherweight Minister, is there a single shred of evidence that the Board did anything except facilitate a scandalous ransacking of the public purse as it headed out of Dodge.

The correspondence of the Chairman, Ken Marshall - though an attempt to tighten the political noose around Ball’s neck - is actually an indictment of his own leadership.

In short, the entire debacle is a story far more about the decisions Ball didn’t make than those he did.

The public will want to remember that Ed Martin has not been a successful CEO of Nalcor.  

The Liberty Report describes one dimension of his failed leadership, namely as head of NL Hydro. Another is manifest at Muskrat Falls, which is already several billion dollars over budget and absent even a schedule. It is a project in disarray. It threatens the financial integrity of the whole Province. There is enough evidence in the public domain to confidently conclude that Ed Martin was a CEO who ought not to have been hired and who, having nonetheless gotten the job, frequently deserved to be fired.

Against such a background, what is it that Ed Martin sought from the Premier?

Martin wrote in his recent public release: “I felt I had been effectively undermined - following the comments made about Nalcor Management during the budget presentation…I suggested…two options:”

An arrogant Martin told the Premier: Endorse and praise me - if you don’t give me unfettered discretion to do as I please, you are undermining me. And if you don’t give me over-weaning power, give me a big pay-off. In addition, I want you to overlook all my incompetence and what my poor management has inflicted on the Province. Let me leave with my dignity, too.

Who but Ed Martin - coddled and praised by successive Premiers, ass-kissing business types, and a compliant media - a man with not a single success to report during his time at Nalcor - would have such an expectation? Certainly not any other public servant. 

Ball should never have met with Ed Martin. A busy Premier doesn’t waste time on poor performers. In this case, the role ought to have been delegated to the Clerk of the Cabinet, or to the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources.

That Ball met with Martin, not once but twice, is a measure of the Premier’s lack of executive experience and bad judgement. It exemplifies the degradation of the (once) normal government processes used for dealing with problems which threaten the Government politically and financially. Ball's decision to keep the very same senior bureaucrats who advised the Tories is just another of his failings.

Here we are: a Province in knots over a $1.4 million severance when we should be asking, what is it about Government that leaves an Ed Martin in place? How can a government, any government, expect to grow a "Statoil" if it can't get rid of the mistakes it has hired? When is it time to get back to the real business of governing?

The public and the media should come down from their lofty and rather tenuous perch.

Ball’s naivete (his Chief of Staff gets no accolades, either) was that when Ed Martin issued the ultimatum, he didn’t cut him off at the knees - that when the issue of severance, and his dignity,  was raised the Premier didn't take his keys and escort him to a waiting Jiffy cab!

Rather than having viewed Martin with obvious suspicion and thrown him out of his Office, Ball treated him courteously and allowed him to return for a second meeting.  

A more experienced Premier would have seen Martin was playing him for a sucker. Before this Premier ever gets asked to leave for being untruthful, he needs to answer for his stupidity.

Now, Ball faces throngs of legitimately angry people forced to pay for Ed Martin’s luxurious retirement. A smarter Premier should be basking in the glow of a real leader, having having forced Martin to grovel in a court of law. He should have forced Martin to justify his entitlement in open court before a judge, not behind the walls of secrecy he built for himself.

Former Nalcor Chair Ken Marshall
Then there is Kenny Marshall and the remaining members of the Nalcor Board.

Given all that we know about Ed Martin’s record at Nalcor, you have to be pretty brazen to write the Premier this kind of tripe, as Marshall did on April 20th:

“…the Board will be discussing an en masse resignation….Clearly, by reaching directly through to the CEO and deciding employment continuation, and from the recent Budget speech, government does not have proper confidence in the Board to continue in its duties and role. I can speak for all individuals on the Board that to a member, all have acted with proper and due care for the long term benefit of the organization and the people of this province.”

What rubbish!

Why would the Premier have confidence in a Nalcor Board that had not done its job? Indeed, had it done so then Ed Martin would not have been around for Ball to fire!

Did the spiraling cost overruns at Muskrat not cause them alarm? Was the fiasco over the “dome” not a wake-up call? How many billion dollars did the project have to lose before the Board thought about the public interest rather than how much money they should stuff into Martin's bank account?

This is the very same Board that ignored the most essential components of “performance” and awarded this man a $156,000 bonus even before giving him the $1.4 million severance.

If performance - which is a word distinct from ineptitude, incompetence, unqualification, and uselessness - is unrelated to the payment of “bonus”, and if Martin’s failure to achieve any project milestones associated with Muskrat Falls or NL Hydro has no bearing on whether he should keep his job, what was the Board’s role?

On what basis can we say that Ken Marshall and the Board exercised good judgement, assisted the Government in dealing with a problematic CEO, and protected the public interest?

Would not Government have been better off employing the janitorial staff of Nalcor to sit at meetings and rubber stamp an unfettered Ed Martin, one who seemingly enjoyed an overbearing sense of entitlement?

Imagine - a mass resignation because the Ball government would not kowtow to a CEO who had performed so badly while an entire Province fears for its fiscal future?

When do we stop putting a pretty face on venality, nepotism, boorishness, and ineptitude?

No one is enraptured with Dwight Ball over this affair. He has obfuscated the truth. His story lacks authenticity. He is a disappointment and not just over Martin’s severance.

But we need to step back from the media's feeding frenzy and its self-serving aspects. We need to ask: when was truth something we associated with Nalcor, and with CEO Ed Martin?

Ball didn’t take the money; his failure was not preventing Ed Martin from grabbing it.

We should demand honesty from the Premier. We should hold him to account.

But Ed Martin has not earned the right to trump anyone’s integrity, including the Premier’s.

24 comments:

  1. Excellent. I have been wondering the same thing all week. We are so caught up with determining who lied that we are neglecting to demand accountability for this display of utter robbery.
    Great commentary as always.

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  2. Agreed. And it now seems like this is another distraction from the bigger issue; for weeks people focused on the 1 million dollar library cuts; now we focus our outrage on the Martin package. However, am I correct in my reading that 3.4 billion is quietly being pushed on through the House regarding loans to government
    ,ostensibly due - at least in part - to MF (hmmm, double entendre in that acronym.) Frightening how easily distracted the populace has been.

    I wonder what new bomb will be dropped by the former Nalcor board when July 1 comes? Seems their timing is deliberate and continues to keep the pressure of Ball and away from the originator(s) of this.

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  3. Well done Uncle Gnarley. An insightful summation of the last couple of weeks. I have been wondering when someone would see the big picture. Folks in this province are rightfully frustrated with the whole Nalcor/Muskrat Fall debacle & have vented their frustrations by targeting the Premier. He is certainly responsible for his own shortcomings, but the Board & Martin are the real perpetrators of this heinous affair. Ball was dropped into it because these people saw him as he is, a weak Premier. They then exploited his weakness to enrich themselves and then quit with no repercussions.

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  4. The important thing in all of this is that Ed Martin is gone.

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    1. Nope. The important thing is that this nasty business must at the end of the day result in, at the very least, the return of the 1.4 million severance to government coffers.

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    2. No, the important thing in all of this, is that he was able to take $6.2 million with him when he left, and $1.4 million of that, he wasn't entitled to.

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    3. Finally a commentary on the bigger issue . Well done

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  5. Excellent commentary, no question that Nalcor has been out of control for a long time and its management has been very poor - a failing grade for sure. But there is also a problem with government as well - it lacks integrity and competence. Why would a Premier and new government go out of its way to cover up for why Ed Martin needs to be fired - not he resigned to spend time with family. Why cover up for the incompetence at Nalcor. It is obvious to all that the Board and management of Nalcor have failed - the biggest project in the history of NL was initiated and forced through under assumptions that were without foundation - totally unreasonable -pie in the sky! They are the same people that were responsible for DarkNL, yet despite independent review and condemnation there was no change.
    Unfortunately there is no honesty, transparency, credibility, or competence in many aspects of Government - not only Nalcor. We all have a very big problem in NL.

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  6. Great summary!I am very disheartened with Dwight Ball's performance. As for this entire fiasco with Ed Martin, once again the taxpayers have been saddled with fallout from poor management of the public purse. Ed Martin may have been one of the most inept bureaucrats this province has ever hired, but when it came to taking care of himself, he is a master at the game. Can't help but wonder who is coaching him from behind the scenes. Dwight Ball has an almost impossible task in trying keep his position. And if the rumor mill is close to being correct, the knives are already been sharpened in the backroom by those who see an opportunity to replace him. If by some miracle he survives this blunder, someone should be pushing him to divulge the finer details of how Ed Martin and others were awarded such lucrative contracts and what the real economic considerations were when Muskrat Falls was deemed to be the saving grace for our power requirements. Only then will the people of this province begin to realize just how much damage was done to our economy by less than astute political leaders and just maybe what was the driving force behind such poor decision making.

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  7. If there is one thing this demonstrates, it is that the Premier is surrounded himself with incompetent staff. Anyone who would counsel a Premier to meet with Martin, considering his (Martins) bungling at Nalcor, needs to be summarily dismissed. As I understand it, the primary job of the chief of staff & others on the eighth floor is to shield the Premier from this type of situation. They clearly did not provide wise advice, & allowed him to stumble pie-eyed into this mess. If Ball has any hope of saving his own neck, there needs to be a house clearing.

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  8. How many libraries could be kept open with the millions of taxpayers' dollars given to Ed Martin?

    The lack of any sense of shame is what's most striking about this whole sorry episode.

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  9. Great analysis Des. The question I keep asking is who in the hell decided he was terminated without cause? There will be about $15 billion good reasons for Ed to have lost his job by the time this mess is all over...

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  10. been waiting impatiently a few days for this. very eloquently said.

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  11. Frig off with the janitorial slur, as if people would just do that job for money - I wash windows for a living and knew all this 10 years ago Uncle Blowhard. Are you like, Twitter for old folks, or are you and Brian Peckford gonna start a real newspaper for Alvin Hewlett? The greenhouse act on emissions is pretty wild reading. A real gas.

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  12. Great Analysis Des,finally someone with a backbone,cheers

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  13. Given the insane degree to which Danny Williams micromanaged the affairs of state — remember his obsession over the details of every ATIP request coming into government? — is there any doubt he had an intimate hand in the drafting of Ed Martin's contract in the first place?

    Why is the Dear Leader getting off scot-free as each of the time bombs that he laid starts going off?

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  14. Excellent summary Uncle Gnarley. Now let's get back to the real issues by starting with the make-up of the new Board of Nalcor. It seems to me that this is just a group of bureaucrats with no particular skills in running an energy company, and certainly none in understanding and dealing with the complexities of a mega-project. If Premier Ball wants to show he has at least a modicum of ability to be in his job, he needs to assemble and immediately appoint a group of people who can deliver the leadership that Nalcor desperately needs. If not enough of these people can be found in NL, then it is incumbent on the premier to look further afield. If you want to loosen the noose Mr. Premier, it's time to step up and act, and fast.

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  15. People are forgetting a very important fact. Ed Martin knew his days were done the moment the Liberals won election 2015. He would have been fully aware that his job performance was terrible as it related to keeping the project on schedule and on budget. Ed Martin would have months to prepare for that very meeting with Government, and it was probably really the only thing on his mind for a very long time. Enter Dwight Ball, who would have been about as busy and stressed as a human being can be, he was easily led into this disaster. Basically, I feel like Ed Martin had been thinking through the whole constructive dismissal plan for a long time.

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  16. As the MF debacle unravels, it make one wonder why so many of our 'so-called' smart business people and politicians would have latched on to this failure whole-heartedly. The only reasonable reason I can think of is personal gain. I mean, why would anyone with a track record for success be willing to let their legacy tarnish quicker than Ball's premiere-ship thus far. Simple – it has to be Greed. Mr Ball, if you read this, please open every document and contract with regard to MF dating back to the Williams reign and release to the public and an auditor other than EY. It may be your only hope of ever gaining any public confidence back. ED and his associates have played you. Though you are losing... you may have not yet lost. PLEASE delve deeper into this project and let the province see the real master and his puppets for who they are – ROGUES. Use part of the 1.3 billion allocated to MF to turn the tables. The public will thank you.

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  17. Good commentary, and needed. I find the absence of a reference to Cathy Bennett, formerly on the NALCO board, and her silence, somewhat disturbing. Likewise, where is D. Williams?

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  18. Poignant and accurate Uncle Gnarley, as usual Sir. The core problem is a system that allows such B.S. It's great that the focus shifts to solutions rather than blame. Prosecute, prosecute , prosecute.... otherwise where is any deterrent? ... ever?
    "Justices" want a raise and some new premises, so as to feel some of importance that they hold, but they softened Ed Byrne's deterrent from justifiable hard-time at Dorchester to a virtual fishin' trip at Salmonier, and no politician in this province has ever been (truly) convicted and sentenced for anything justly. So where's the justification for the Justices? The public remembers and considers this (see VOCM question response rates), even if the committee didn't. No matter, no raises now.

    .... there is no better time for Justices and for real justice to "show up for work" in this province. The time for eloquent-like "restraint and leniency" just followed the "have province" status.... out the God Damned door!! ... and just to add salt, vinegar and booze to the wounds... the key culprit of all (Mr. Gaul-way"), gets his name on a F%&@king Courthouse????

    "DO YA THINK?" we gotta problem with justice/corruption in this province?
    We have become an international embarrassment in, and to. our own country, and all the problems boil down to (just) one problem ... no real convictions, or sentences, or justice for the "St. John's elite" no matter WHAT scummy endeavours they pull off.

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  19. Great summary Uncle Gnarley.

    A few things though. As the bombs drop on the NL residents one after another, Emperor Danny escapes without criticism or hard questions. He is the cause of the misery every resident now feels.

    The board/Martin/Ball sideshow is a smokescreen for deeper problems. The problems with top management that the Ball government talked about before the sideshow started remain unresolved. The project management crew is clearly in over their heads and show no signs of anything but a flat to declining learning curve. When will Stan Marshall get the lead out of Nalcor?

    Most distressing this debacle will never be unraveled until the contracts, engineering and especially who the "agents" were that facilitated the contacts. Lack of transparency to even regulatory bodies is at the root of this looting of the treasury. That must change before answers can be found.

    All must demand Nalcor's affairs be made public immediately, now that both the CEO and board are gone. Failing that it will be "Meet the New Boss, Same As the Old Boss" and unlike the Who tune NL residents will be fooled again.

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  20. The fact Nalcor Senior Officers could within a few hours, on April 20th, cut a cheque or electronically transfer such a vast sum of public money to their own CEO, who had just PUBLICLY RESIGNED, and purportedly do so without the knowledge and approval of the Premier or Natural Resources Minister has only one explanation. Nalcor has now clearly demonstrated, as its critics have always maintained, that it is a Crown Corporation answerable only to itself and as such is completely out of control. As its only CEO, (until recently), Ed Martin created and nurtured this culture. From all the evidence available thus far, he also used that CULTURE OF ENTITLEMENT to his immense personal benefit. His so called political bosses, starting with Danny Williams, allowed and enabled him. As for the current Premier and Natural Resources Minister, evidence available to the present time, show them simply as grossly incompetent and grossly deceitful. The saddest, most alarming concern is that the public outcry has not reached a fevered pitch so as to bring full accountability to this outrage. Actually, I have absolutely no confidence much will change. The political will and leadership required remains absent.

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  21. First symbolic change at the "Blue Zoo". Stop the practice of Nalcor Management getting paid for unused vacation. This has been a favourite avenue for former CEO Ed Martin to fatten his wallet. If they are made to take their vacation, you could argue they will not be in a position to do more harm to the interests of the province.

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