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Thursday 12 January 2017


Guest Post By Concerned Newfoundlander and Professional Engineer

Mr. Bernard Coffey
Executive Council
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

Dear Sir:

Re:  If You Are Not Part Of The Solution, You Are Part Of The Problem

            I very much welcomed the announcement in September, 2016 of your appointment as Clerk of the Executive Council. Giving leadership to the day-to-day running of government is critical, especially in these challenging times. The Muskrat Falls project is certainly one of the government's many challenges. For that reason, I was looking forward to your assuming the role of Chair of the Muskrat Falls Oversight Committee and to much needed change.

            As you know, this Committee was set up in March of 2014 by then Premier Tom Marshall. Ostensibly, he was responding to citizens’ concerns over how poorly the project was managed, to the enormous cost overruns and delay in the project schedule.

The Oversight Committee was touted by the Minister of Natural Resources, at the time, as having an independent oversight role, one akin to that performed by the PUB. The current Premier, then Liberal leader of the Opposition, Dwight Ball, expressed the position that a committee of bureaucrats reporting to Cabinet is merely window dressing. As far as I can see, he was dead right.

            Indeed, in contrast to its original billing, the Oversight Committee has functioned at a level even below window dressing. The few Reports it has issued mimic the words of Nalcor and provide no independent review of any of Nalcor’s data, contracts, costs projections or even schedule projections. None of the Reports contain analysis or forward thinking, nor the kind of commentary one would expect from a group providing independent oversight.

Incredibly, the Oversight Committee failed to predict the massive cost overruns or any of the schedule delays. This record suggests a standard of oversight that is even worse than the fox overseeing the chicken coop. 

The last Committee Report is dated December, 2015. It is now over one year old. The people of the province were promised independent oversight reports on a quarterly basis. Though committed by Premier Ball this has not occurred. The complete absence of reports is unacceptable. 

There is a huge list of things this Committee should have done - and could still do - to give guidance to the management team and to help the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador understand how we have become part of a “boondoggle” - a budget breaking project. 

In the last year or so, we have seen the departure of former CEO Ed Martin and the arrival of his replacement, Mr. Stan Marshall. Gilbert Bennett has had his role cut in half and he has been promoted from the position of Vice President to the role of Executive Vice President of Nalcor. It is this man whose sole responsibility is the delivery of the Muskrat Falls Project. But Gilbert Bennett, alone, could not have created such a poorly managed project.  

According to Nalcor documents, there are 468 staff personnel on the Project. For the most part, these are the same people who worked on the Project prior to sanction. They are the same group who made decisions relating to packaging of the work, the selection of SNC-Lavalin, size of contracts, tendering methods, labour site agreement, cost estimates, and risk analysis, etc. We were assured that risks would be reduced by front end engineering. 

Yet we are saddled with contracts requiring huge settlements - such as the one reached with Astaldi - and technical breaches such as a leaking coffer dam, and unravelling conductors on the LIL, to name just two. Why should we still trust these people to complete this Project?

Mr. Coffey, my request is that you immediately reform the Oversight Committee into a group of experts who can challenge the information presented by Nalcor. They must be capable of making recommendations and providing instructions regarding how Nalcor should change their management practices and change the unsuitable people still occupying management positions.

A committee of accountants adding up overruns provides no real value. What the public needs is a real oversight group who will find the mistakes, the conflicts of interest, the poorly written tenders, and the nonsensical tendering methods. All of this needs to be exposed for everyone to see - because the public is on the hook for all of the mistakes, the inexperience, and management's missteps.

Please make the next Report something that you would be proud to put your name on. 

Let it reflect the standard of review and investigation the Premier promised two years ago.

Alternatively, if the government is not serious about providing oversight of this project, shut down the Committee down. I suggest it is better that the public received none than to be given the mere appearance of oversight - one that is distainful of the public interest and is false.


Concerned Newfoundlander and Professional Engineer