“The collective assets have become the piggy bank to a few”
Watt demands crisis summit on First Air bonuses
Senator Charlie Watt has called for a special emergency meeting so that Nunavimmiut can take a position on the bonuses recently pocketed by First Air directors.
"The collective assets have become the piggy bank to a few. We can't allow this to continue," Watt said in a news release issued from his office.
The directors of the Makivik Corp.-owned airline collected bonuses this past summer totalling $1.5 million, including several payments to Makivik executives: $600,000 to First Air's chair, Pita Aatami, also president of Makivik; $250,000 to George Berthe, Makivik's corporate secretary, and about $100,000 to Michael Gordon, a Makivik vice-president.
News about the bonuses first surfaced publicly at the end of September.
The Nov. 24 media advisory sent out by Watt's office said that as a beneficiary of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, Watt was outraged by "the constant attempts of the Makivik executive to justify their hefty bonuses, as being normal and the industry standard."
"We can't let this fester any longer. We all need to have a special meeting about this affair at the same time, in the same place," Watt said.
Makivik should cover the costs of the meeting, he suggested.
This meeting could force the resignation of the Makivik executives – "if they have not already resigned by that time," Watt said.
"This is the right thing to do," Watt said, citing a need for "positive and conclusive action."
Watt said he was concerned by the lack of transparency and accountability of Makivik leaders.
"The leaders should always be accountable to the people, not the other way around," he said.
Watt summed up his concerns about the bonuses, saying in the media advisory that:
• The bonuses were excessive and unjustified;
• All Makivik leaders are paid a fair salary for their work, and many of the Makivik leaders are collecting salaries from each of the subsidiaries they work for;
• Makivik was established "to relieve poverty and to promote the welfare and the advancement of education of the Inuit;"
• Profits made by Makivik and the subsidiaries are to support the needs of the community;
• The bonuses could have been used to support the youth in education and to help eliminate crowded homes and to fund programs for the well-being of Inuit people;
• Suicide is a huge problem that needs immediate attention, and this money could have gone a long way to help break the cycle.
Watt suggested that fallout from bonus handouts will negatively impact the region.
Watt said he was concerned about the future credibility of Makivik-owned firms, wondering how the profitability of these companies stands to be affected because companies will be reluctant to deal with Makivik-owned businesses.
During the last session of Parliament, Watt presented bill
S-214 to eliminate the GST and increase the northern allowance for Nunavik residents.
But now it will be difficult to negotiate programs and services for Inuit "because a small number are taking the benefit from everyone," he said.
Watt also suggested a full investigation into Makivik's affairs, saying "maybe this is not the only instance of inappropriate bonuses" within Makivik-owned businesses.
"We have a serious job to do because we need to protect our businesses and assets. This is our inheritance, and the inheritance of our children," Watt said.
A petition, started by Inukjuak resident Sarolie Weetaluktuk last month, has already circulated widely in Nunavik.
The petition asks for the removal of Makivik's current board and its replacement by the original signatories of the JBNQA who would manage the corporation's assets in a trust during an inquiry into the bonus payments.
Many in Kuujjuaq have told Nunatsiaq News that they are still upset over the bonuses to First Air directors, calling the bonus handout a "scandal."
Some said they signed the recent petition even if they did not fully back its demand for the JBNQA signatories to replace the Makivik executives.