WorkSafe BC is in the news again and Shirley Bond appointed part-time Ferry Commissioner Gord Macatee to review WSBC operations. This is a common government ploy: when one group of patronage puppies screws up, they dispatch a trusted insider to conduct a “review” and suggest improvements. Current WSBC Chair George Moffit has had much experience with these kinds of assignments but now, his organization is targeted.
Gord Macatee set up as a consultant after years as a senior bureaucrat. He worked at VANOC and took on the role of Ferry Commissioner, part of the bloated BC Ferries governance. It’s a gig that pays 6-figures but allows opportunities for numerous other assignments. Although he resides in Victoria, Macatee is on the board of Vancouver’s Providence Health Care, operator of St. Paul’s Hospital and other public health facilities in the city. He’s vice-chair of the Victoria Hospitals Foundation and has served on various boards of directors.
Macatee is hardly an independent, disinterested consultant. He’s a trusted dependent of the Liberal Government, just as George Morfitt has been. Members of this small community of political beneficiaries are practiced at looking without seeing, at creating polite critiques that harm nobody of importance. This is one of the reasons that public institutions in BC are so inept; they are immune from real examination and real change. Essentially, they are grazing lands for people who are politically useful.
The rest of this piece is from November 2012.
Sean Holman at PublicEye Online reported this April 20, 2010:
Former auditor general George Morfitt has picked up some contract work as a result of being a member of the provincial government’s B.C. horse racing industry management committee. That six-person committee was launched in January to help “restore the the industry’s financial strength.” And now Mr. Morfitt has been hired by the government’s gaming policy and enforcement branch to “offer advice from a point of view independent of the horse racing industry.” This, according to a government spokesperson. The notice of intent to award that contract – which is worth up to $25,000 – was rolled out last Wednesday. Mr. Morfitt will also preside over administrative review hearings concerning issues such as the revocation of horse racing registration or a gaming license.
Morfitt is obviously a man of talent with expertise ranging from accounting and finance to public policy, horse racing, gambling, ferry operations, car sales, education, pharmaceuticals and public safety including installations involving electrical, gas, pressure vessels, elevating and amusement devices, railroads, etc. That he chooses to practice as a consultant in the public sector arises from his record of success. Success well earned, no doubt.
Firstly, I believe that government and its agencies spend far too much on consultants. Recently, BC Liberals granted huge pay raises to senior officers and civil servants, allegedly so public service could attract the best and the brightest. If indeed we employ so many highly paid experts in the civil service and ministerial offices, why do we spend so lavishly on consultants? And, why return to the same people over and over? Outside experts should be independent, not dependent.
Leaving that aside, I see a problem with Morfitt’s activity in the public sector. It is work that should not be available to a former Auditor General. Citizens and MLAs have little opportunity to review government finance in even slight detail. So, we rely on the Auditor General, an officer of the Legislature, to independently investigate financial policies and practices of the government. This position is unique to all others.
George Morfitt completed two terms in this key position and, while he was well regarded, I find it troubling that anyone can act as Auditor-General, then retire to consult for the same government and its agencies. Those organizations were audit subjects and the auditor must always be free of conflict or appearance of it. No person should wonder if the officer shaped opinions or analyses to retain favor of the people with hands on the public purse. Post-term consulting contracts might be seen as rewards for prior cooperation.
Again, I don’t question Morfitt’s competence or integrity. Fellowship was bestowed on him by fellow Chartered Accountants and that is a sign of distinction. However, professional accountants have struggled for years to refine practice rules to improve, among other things, public perception of their independence and professional integrity. In the last decade, numerous accounting frauds were attributed to pressure on auditors to report favorable numbers. Some of those pressures resulted in ethical breaches, none more serious than the cases which led to dissolution of one of the ‘Big Five’ accounting firms. In reviewing a rush of audit fraud, CNN reported that one former corporate accountant said about his profession, “Early on in their career they learn to shave the truth.”
Retired Auditors General should not contract with the governments they audited. Independence and credibility is vital to the role. There should be no suggestion, however remote, that post-retirement rewards might flow to a friendly and cooperative examiner.
George Morfitt has taken many provincial appointments and engagements over the past number of years. In one of those jobs, BC Liberals even tasked Morfitt with a role in reviewing the legislature’s eight statutory officers, including Auditor General. I doubt a former officer, now a consultant, is going to be suggesting more restrictive rules for consultants.
This may not be exhaustive, but I list here examples of Morfitt’s post-retirement engagements in the public sector:
- WorkSafe BC, Vice Chair;
- BC Safety Authority, Director
- Motor Vehicle Sales Authority, Vice Chair;
- Adjunct Professor, University of Victoria;
- Consultant for Richmond, Airport, Vancouver Rapid Transit Project (2004)
- Health Council of Canada, Councilor;
- Capacity Development Network, Associate Director
- Consultant regarding regulation of horse racing (2005);
- Consultant for a comprehensive review of operational safety at BC Ferries;
- BC Horse Racing Industry Management Committee, Member;
- British Columbia pharmaceutical task force;
- One of a four-member panel to review the legislature’s eight statutory officers.
Just as private businesses develop strong systems of internal controls to limit potential for inappropriate behavior, so should government. Unhappily, there has grown a culture of entitlement that would shock public servants of bygone days. A generation ago, mandarins each expected one salary and one pension arrangement. Now, many collect varied forms of remuneration and expense allowances, part paid personally, other parts directed to personal corporations and partnerships, more difficult to track, of course. Pensions overlap with current earnings and occasionally one agency funds a large severance payment while another public agency hires that same person to a new arrangement.
Before the province forces layoff of hundreds of teachers, closure of tens of neighborhood schools and hospital surgeries and wards, let us resolve to first stop authorizing extravagant payments to senior executives and consultants.
Hard choices, Liberals. You guys said you were willing to make them.
Categories: BC Liberals