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Thursday 1 June 2017


When malfeasance on a grand scale is alleged against senior government officials by credible people, what are we to make of it?

According to Stan Marshall, the decisions were directed at a senior level, but he says he doesn’t know who is responsible and doesn’t want to find out.

Yet the consequences are enormous. NL society has been laden with an unspeakable debt and a failed project, fallout from which will cause great social and financial pain over many decades.

The situation begs another question: do the authorities have an obligation to investigate and to hold the complicit to account, in keeping with the laws of civil society?

Is the Ball Administration’s seeming disinterest in the matter proof that what is still if only barely obscure should remain that way; that a higher standard applies to those wielding power?

We will return to this question. 
Premier Dwight Ball - Photo Credit: CBC
More generally, is NL society so immured to incompetence, self-indulgence, deceit, and even corruption, by public officials that news of more of the same no longer holds the power to unsettle the fair-minded and law-abiding? 

Does it even matter that the allegations directed at Nalcor are so serious that their failure to trigger an immediate investigation is, alone, cause for alarm?

There was a time merely a decade ago when far smaller revelations would have been met with outrage by the public, and by our elected representatives too.

This is not about a few hires who conned the Public Service Commission or a public employee paid twice, having submitted the same travel claim as many times. This is about deceit possibly fraud on a grand scale. 

Perhaps the public can be forgiven, the matter just seeming too complicated, though it actually isn't.

But the Government, including the Premier and the Natural Resources Minister, have no right to any such claim. They employ professional advisors, have access to public money and to investigative resources. They also have a sworn duty to protect the public interest.  

What is absent, now, is that sense of duty and the energy necessary to ferret out the full truth. Missing, too, is an acknowledgment that the public interest exceeds that of private individuals. 

Even the Justice Minister has slunk into the shadows, preferring to play prison guard when he should be ensuring that the justice system has not consciously left out of the gaol those enjoying unwarranted political protection.

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy
The NDP expressed unequivocal support for a forensic audit. Leader Earle McCurdy released one of the best documents ever produced by his Party on this issue, and he should be commended for it. But McCurdy and his two sitting Members need to learn that there is a place for follow-up.

The Opposition Tories who can be counted among those with the most to fear from a forensic audit of the MF project estimates should have been at the forefront of the issue.

PC Leader Paul Davis ought to have been embarrassed by the allegations for himself as a Minister under Dunderdale when Muskrat Falls was sanctioned, and as a former Premier, his Administration having been in Office during part of the time in which falsification is alleged to have occurred. He should want to know what went on under his nose, or if he wittingly - or otherwise - concurred.

But there is no outrage expressed by Davis, no embarrassment that members of former Tory Administrations may have been complicit, and no concern that his Party may fly the flag of treachery for years to come.

The most he could utter was: "Anything that can be done to get details and information to the benefit of the people of the province, I'm all for it".

Such passion. Such an expression of umbrage. Such a sense of betrayal!   

Opposition Leader Paul Davis
Has the Cop been washed clean of moral standard by the cynicism of partisan politics? 

While in a democratic society it is the responsibility of the Official Opposition Parties to push the Government to act, it is ultimately the role of the Liberal Administration of Dwight Ball to establish the form of investigation, confirm its independence, and give it a speedy start.

Speaking for the Government, Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady told the CBC that they were "certainly not opposed to really questioning, because we have a lot of questions ourselves."

What is the use of “not opposed” when they are the Government the ones expected to make the forensic inquiry happen?

And her comments lack an iota of concern that the government is worried that the public may be the unwitting victims of deceivers and charlatans.

"We're going to look at what the auditor general does uncover and talk to the auditor general at the time, and then consider how we move [forward], what's the next steps from there," the CBC reported Coady lamely commenting.

Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady
Coady’s comments transmit the unmistakable odour of delay.

The public has seen it before in the case of the Humber Valley Paving affair involving no trifling sum either and also linked to the PC Administration. Premier Ball did promise a Judicial Inquiry into that matter, but has not delivered.

It seems strange, therefore, that the Administration can be so dismissive of the very fuel integrity on which every government runs.

It is even stranger that one Administration is so unwilling to hold another, (ostensibly) a political enemy, to account!

And remember that the anonymous engineer, whose story Coady has embraced, alleges not just that the project estimates were falsified to justify sanction, but that the cost overruns were supressed for the entire period leading up to the 2015 general election.

The Premier’s uncompromised silence forces us to ask: if not the public, who does the Ball Government owe?

Why is he so afraid to expose profoundly unethical behaviour and possible illegality under the Tories?

The Premier doesn’t have to wait for the A-G’s Report to determine if a forensic audit would overlap his review.

He can ask the A-G now.

Naturally, the A-G is unlikely to disclose any of his conclusions prematurely, but it is perfectly legitimate for the Government to ask about the scope of his investigation, and whether a forensic audit would overlap his work.

A normal government one completely free of conflict would also want to convey to him its deep concern that the allegations suggest great offence may have occurred to standards of probity at the highest level. He might even inquire whether the A-G possesses adequate resources for his own inquiry and offer him more assuming he is attempting to hold Nalcor up to the light.

A short visit to the A-G’s Office by the Clerk of the Cabinet would put the matter to rest.

All those reasons taken together, Premier Ball’s reticence can’t be explained by something as foolish as an overlapping audit at a crown corporation given no restraint or even oversight since its inception a place that has blown billions of dollars of public money on a project sanctioned, allegedly, through deceitful means.

The Premier is afraid of something. I don't know what it is. But the government is not acting normally.

For that reason, we should ask again: who else does the Ball Liberal Government owe?