The Arrivecan Scandal: How Can We Avoid Similar Problems In The Future?

Author: Annie Lecompte

(MENAFN- The Conversation) The release of the recent report on the ArriveCan app by Auditor General of Canada Karen Hogan hit Canadians like a bombshell: the app was supposed to cost Canadians $80,000, but was updated 177 times and racked up a bill of at least $59.5 million, instead . The company behind the scandal, GC Strategies, received more than $258 million in federal contracts in less than 10 years .

Hogan mentioned that while it was understandable that the government had to relax certain standards to be able to respond quickly to the pandemic, waiving the requirement to provide documentation for the awarding of contracts related to the creation of the app raises questions. ArriveCan collected health and contact information for people travelling outside the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hogan's report reveals shameless mismanagement of public funds by the Canada Border Services Agency.

How could this happen? As a specialist in public sector audit, I took a close look at how different factors combined to create this extreme situation. Here is what I found.

Exceptional measures for an unprecedented situation

The pandemic, which was exceptional and unprecedented, profoundly disrupted our daily lives and redefined our perception of what is normal on a global scale.

It led governments to take equally exceptional and often unprecedented measures.

For example, between 2020 and 2023, Emergency Orders in Council were issued under the Quarantine Act to protect public health in Canada.

Among other things, Orders in Council issued as part of Canada's response to the pandemic facilitated the rapid acquisition of personal protective equipment , making this an appropriate government response to the health emergency. However, these measures also led to abuses, particularly concerning the creation of the ArriveCan app.

Conflicts of interest

In the case of ArriveCan, the Auditor General noted several situations that seemed to show what appears to be a conflict of interest.

In her report, she points to shortcomings in the contract award process. She points out that Public Health Agency employees attended dinners and other events organized by suppliers. However, there is no documentation proving that these employees informed their supervisor of these interactions, as required by the Agency's code of conduct.

Passengers walk through Montréal-Trudeau airport in Montréal, Dec. 1, 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. To better control the spread of the virus, Ottawa set up an app, ArriveCan. La Presse Canadienne/Paul Chiasson

It is important to underline that government entities must adhere to high standards of integrity and fairness in their procurement processes. As a result, even if the legislation does not explicitly state that a government entity which establishes criteria for a call for tenders is prohibited from bidding, it is likely that such actions would be considered a conflict of interest and contrary to the principles of fairness and transparency.

In fact, any supplier wishing to do business with an entity linked to the government, and in particular to the Government of Canada, must comply with the Directive on Conflict of Interest at all times and adhere to the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector .

Preparation of the call for tenders and submission of bids

The Auditor General found that the company that received the contract, GC Strategies, was also involved in defining the criteria used to evaluate and select the supplier. This represents a violation of the principles of fairness and transparency put forward by Public Services and Procurement Canada, while placing the company in a position of conflict of interest.

Calls for tenders related to government bodies must comply with certain rules and laws requiring transparency and non-discrimination . The fundamental principles of the legal framework for calls for tenders in Canada emphasize openness, fairness and transparency in the procurement processes. This means that any tendering process must be open (anyone can bid), fair (bidders and potential bidders are treated equally) and transparent (the rules are known to everyone).

This was clearly not the case for ArriveCan.

Lack of accountability

Another key issue was project management, where everyone's responsibilities must be clearly established. The Auditor General noted major shortcomings in this area, noting that no formal agreement had been established to specify the roles and responsibilities of each party in the creation and management of the ArriveCan project.

Yet the Government of Canada Directive on the Management of Projects and Programmes clearly stipulates the need to assign the various responsibilities of a project in order to ensure accountability. This notion is also part of the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct of the Project Management Institute , the body that governs project managers.

These shortcomings in terms of accountability and responsibility led to ineffective reporting, as the Auditor General points out in her report.

An exceptional incident, but not an isolated one

Although the case of the ArriveCan app is surprising for Canadian taxpayers, with costs skyrocketing from $80,000 to nearly $59.5 million, it is not an isolated incident in the history of Canadian government projects.

The Sponsorship scandal is a good example. Between 1997 and 2003, public funds were used to finance public relations campaigns aimed at countering the pro-sovereignty efforts of a provincial political party (the Parti Québécois), without adequate oversight of the spending or effectiveness of these campaigns.

There is also the example of Montréal's Formula E pilot project in July 2017, which involved electric vehicle races held on its streets. In her report on the event , the Auditor General of the City of Montréal claimed that the project suffered from ineffective management, unclear allocation of roles and responsibilities, and lack of accountability. At the time, many commentators felt that the affair was partly responsible for then Mayor Denis Coderre losing his re-election.

Solutions to avoid such scandals

The ArriveCan affair is just the most recent example of scandals involving an outrageous use of public funds. This underlines the crucial importance of transparent governance and rigorous management of public funds in maintaining the trust of citizens and preserving the integrity of institutions.

As a result, governmental and paragovernmental entities should implement controls to ensure compliance with the various government policies and directives to which they are subject.

In addition, committees made up of members from outside the organization should be set up to evaluate different projects while ensuring proper management and effective and timely reporting on them. This would ensure that the organization's decisions and actions are subject to impartial and thorough scrutiny, thereby promoting greater transparency and accountability among the players involved.

Although basic, these measures would nevertheless help reinforce accountability among various stakeholders.

This article was originally published in French

The Conversation


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