Nunavut government’s contracting practices to see more scrutiny
“I believe the use of contractors to fill indeterminate positions has been abused over the years…. It’s essentially taking jobs away from Nunavummiut”
Nunavut’s minister of community and government services will likely face mounting pressure over his department’s contracting practices when the territory’s legislature starts sitting this week.
That’s because Adam Arreak Lightstone, MLA for Iqaluit-Manirajak, says the written answers he recently received so far from Lorne Kusugak have been “disappointing.”
“I wasn’t too pleased about the quality of answers. I feel that my questions were unanswered and I’ll be forced to submit them again,” said Lightstone.
Lightstone, who provided Nunatsiaq News with the department’s written answers, tabled written questions in the legislature on March 4 based on concerns first raised during the department’s budget discussions in committee of the whole.
An “alarmingly large number” of contract descriptions in the Department of Community and Government Services’ 2016-17 annual procurement report resembled job descriptions, Lightstone said.
“I believe the use of contractors to fill indeterminate positions has been abused over the years… It’s essentially taking jobs away from Nunavummiut.”
The department didn’t provide enough information in its written responses to either confirm or refute that concern, Lightstone said.
For example, Lightstone asked for information about casual employees in “unfunded positions”—positions that are not included in a department’s organizational chart.
Lightstone told Nunatsiaq News that he was approached by a number of constituents who had been longtime casual employees of CGS but who were let go, not because of performance issues but because their positions were unfunded.
“CGS is not in a position to highlight only those casual positions that were unfunded as this would require extensive manual validation,” the department said.
Lightstone, who is familiar with the accounting and human resource software used by the Government of Nunavut, disagrees.
“Finding this information would be quite simple,” he said.
Lightstone also asked the department to specify which communities some contracts were carried out in, and over what time period.
“The contract services were done in all communities in Nunavut,” the department said, but did not provide the length of the contracts.
Lightstone responded, “If an individual is getting $150,000 for a contract, I’d like to know, is that for a four-month contract or a six-month contract? I’m curious to find out how many of these contractors are working outside the territory.”
Lightstone also asked why the positions were contracted out instead of filled by a government employee.
“These contracts were for skill-sets that did not exist within the fulltime positions… The requirement to meet operational needs was beyond the current available skill-set, timelines and staffing complement,” the department said.
Lightstone replied, “It’s the kind of stuff that every government has employees to do so I don’t understand why we’re so different.”
And because the contractors are on the department’s standing offer agreement list, no public requests for proposals were issued for those positions, the department said.
“That’s a red flag right there,” Lightstone said. “That’s a complete undermining of the competitive process.”
Services valued at over $250,000 must be put out for a public request for proposal, or RFP, the department said.
But even that doesn’t ensure fair competition, said Lightstone: “It’s quite easy to manipulate specifications and requirements of RFPs to basically write it so that one pre-selected vendor could qualify for it.”
Lightstone also asked if CGS helps other departments with contracts to fill roles intended for employees.
“CGS Procurement is usually not aware if a Client Department is using a resource to replace a regular employee,” the department said.
So who does provide that oversight?
“That’s definitely something that needs to be brought up with CGS and the [new] Department of Human Resources,” said Lightstone.
He added that a number of MLAs expressed concern during the winter sitting over CGS having not yet tabled its 2017-18 annual procurement report.
That report is usually tabled at the same time as the government’s financial statements, in the fall, Lightstone said.
“I’m worried that by not publishing the crucial procurement and contracting information, it’s reducing the accountability and transparency the government is operating on,” he said.