Opposition leader says it's issue of accountability to question $8 million in problematic contracts
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Transportation Minister Robert Vessey, left, and his chief engineer, Stephen Yeo, appear before the province’s public accounts committee Wednesday. They were there to answer to issues identified in the 2012 auditor general’s report regarding highway construction contracts.
The Opposition’s continued attempts to have the former deputy minister of tourism appear before the legislature’s public accounts and answer to $8 million in problematic contracts were blocked once again this week.
On Wednesday, Crane asked the committee to rescind a decision made during a previous meeting not to call Melissa MacEachern to testify.
Crane said she believes it is a question of accountability, as MacEachern was the deputy of tourism when the $8 million in contracts were awarded.
She pointed to their witnesses from earlier in the meeting — Transportation Minister Robert Vessey and his chief engineer Stephen Yeo — and how detailed questions committee members posed about highway contracts probed by the auditor general in his 2012 report were answered mainly by Yeo.
“We asked him lots of questions about what happened and why did he make decisions at the time, and in the interest of accountability and transparency that’s what I’d like to see (from MacEachern),” Crane said.
In his 2012 annual report, auditor general Colin Younker investigated Tourism P.E.I. and found a lack of controls and oversight in $8 million in contracts it awarded between 2009 and 2011. He noted numerous instances where Treasury Board policy was not properly applied, appropriate signing authority was not sought and some contracts that were not even documented.
Last week, Tourism Minister Robert Henderson and his current deputy, David MacKenzie, appeared before public accounts to answer to these contracts.
Henderson apologized and MacKenzie admitted the issues Younker identified were not isolated incidents but a pervasive and problematic attitude toward contracts among senior staff in the department.
Crane has been trying repeatedly to get MacEachern before the committee to answer detailed questions as to how these problems developed.
Several backbench government MLAs on the committee had previously stated they would entertain the question of calling MacEachern to appear after they heard from the present minister and deputy if, and only if, their own questions were not satisfied.
On Wednesday, those MLAs said they now see no reason MacEachern should be called.
“Last week, I was completely satisfied with the explanations that were given by the minister and his deputy,” said committee co-chair Buck Watts.
“I don’t see any point in bringing in the previous deputy for anything else other than to drag her through the mud, which won’t do us any good. This is not a court of law. We are not cross-examining people here.”
House Leader Sonny Gallant and Alberton-Roseville MLA Pat Murphy agreed.
“Last week, I thought the committee did a good job, and I thought the minister and the deputy minister did a good job of answering the questions,” Gallant said.
“The committee has already made the decision on this,” Murphy added.
But committee chair and Opposition MLA Steven Myers said he has received calls from friends who work within government saying they wish MacEachern would be held accountable for her decisions at public accounts because they feel she’s making all civil servants look bad.
“They’re like saying to me, ‘Why don’t you get her there because she makes us all look bad?’ I try to explain to them that I don’t have that control over this committee to bring in who it is I want,” Myers said.
But in the end, the backbench MLAs on the committee defeated Crane’s motion, once again quashing Crane’s attempt to call MacEachern to public accounts.