EIGHT MEN OUT
COMMISSION LEADS TO ARRESTS ON WATER METER FIX IN MONTREAL
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By Cori Marshall
The word corruption has become commonplace in relation to the Québec political class. Last week began with news surfacing that Montréal police brotherhood President, Yves Francoeur, claimed Jean-Marc Fournier, who is the current Parti Libéral du Québec (PLQ) house leader, exchanged his influence for a political donation to Sûreté du Québec (SQ) investigators.
The real bombshell however came on September 19, when the Unité permanente anticorruption (UPAC) carried out arrest warrants for eight men, Frank Zampino, Bernard Trépanier, Robert Marcil, Kazimierz Olechnowicz, Yves Théberge, Bernard Poulin, Dany Moreau, and Normand Brousseau.
All eight are charged with Fraud (Art. 380(1)a)), Conspiracy to commit Fraud (Art. 465(1)c)), and Corruption in Municipal Affairs (Art. 123 (1)c)) according to the UPAC communiqué. Only Zampino, Trépanier, and Marcil were charged with Abuse of Confidence.
Who They Are
- Normand Brousseau, Employee of Engineering Firm HBA Technika
- Robert Marcil, former Director of Public Works Service, Ville de Montréal
- Dany Moreau, Engineer and Vice President of Infrastructure, Groupe SM International Inc.
- Kazimierz Olechnowicz, Engineer and former CEO, CIMA +
- Bernard Poulin, Engineer and President, Groupe SM International Inc.
- Yves Théberge, Engineer and former Vice President, CIMA +
- Bernard Trépanier, Mr. 3%, former Fund Raiser for Union Montréal
- Frank Zampino, former President of the Executive Committee, Ville de Montréal, and former Mayor of Saint-Léonard.
Opération Fronde, the UPAC investigation that led to last weeks arrests began in 2014 and looked into "some thirty contracts for professional services mostly engineering contracts awarded by the [Ville de Montréal] between 2001 and 2009." The communiqué goes on to state that "the investigation shows that there was a network of consulting engineering firms, municipal officials and elected officials who developed a system of contract sharing."
Much of the information that led to the arrests and charges was revealed during the Commission of Inquiry on the Awarding and Management of Public Contracts in the Construction Industry. You could be forgiven for not knowing the official name of the Charbonneau Commission, a gift that apparently keeps on giving.
According to the Charbonneau Commission's Opening Declaration , the investigation had three components to look into the process of granting and management of construction contracts with public institutions, organised crime's infiltration into the construction industry, and to examine recommendations to combat collusion in the granting of public construction contracts.
How We Got Here
The scandal that surrounded the process of awarding municipal contracts broke in 2009, due in large part to irregularities surrounding the city's decision to repair its water infrastructure.
The then newly appointed Vérificateur général for the city, Jacques Bergeron, published a Special Report on the city's water Meter project in September 2009. One of the key points in the investigation was "the tendering process leading to the award of the contract to GéNIeau, Groupe d'experts, in 2007, in the amount of $ 355,846,518 for the completion of component 1 (implementation of water meters in industries commerces and institutions (ICI)) and of component 2 (optimization
of the network)."
The report outlines that Montréal's executive committee was presented with information that "the costs for installation and exploitation of the water meters was $32 million plus an honorarium of $4 million for professional services."
Additional components were added to the project. The office of the Verificateur Générale had "serious reserves about the way the initial project had been modified, about the speed with which the new component,[...], was introduced and approved by those responsible for the file."
In his final annual report in May 2016 Bergeron said he found that the project was "too big, too fast, [and] too expensive."
Key Findings of the September 2009 Special Report:
- Administrative and legal rules had not been complied with
- Elected officials had been misinformed
- The municipal administration no longer had the human resources to counterbalance private business
- The initial project was misrepresented, with officials not having all the information, the cost surged from $40 million to more than $600 million
- The city did not have the means to fight and collusion
- The city was not monitoring the costs of its projects
- The contract-awarding process was not audited, as was originally planned. Significant irregularities were identified in both the bids and the awarding process
- The project costs were too high
- Nearly half of the water meters planned were never installed
Report of the Auditor General of the Ville de Montréal for the year ended December 31, 2015
A parade of Montréal city officials and a who's who of Québec's construction industry appeared before the Charbonneau Commission, including four of the accused.
On February 2013, Robert Marcil the former Director of Public Works in Montréal, appeared before the commission. Marcil testified that "Montréal is an extremely complex organization, where the bureaucracy is very present."
"As soon as we have a summary decision to deliver to the Executive Committee there was an extremely rigorous process to follow," Marcil said.
He was questioned as to why certain names were continuously under his authority, and he was questioned about the specific role of one specific employee. To elaborate his response Marcil used the example of the contract awarding process.
He said "following the submissions period the grant is prepared, the engineer who worked the project will elaborate the presentation document to explain the reason for the project, the costs and all."
The employee had the role of a "synthesiser" Marcil said. The employee would "collect the work of the different engineers, and harmonize the content." The next step was to get support for the project.
Once the project has support "of a dozen supporters, [...], it finishes in the Office of the General Director," Marcil said. "There is a team who works to assure everything conforms [to regulations], [...] the process is extremely long."
Despite this lengthy process the costs of the water meter skyrocketed, and that project was never actually completed.
Marilyne Laroche Corbeil, Publicist, Ville de Montréal, said that "the objective of the city [concerning] the installation of water meters was to measure the water consumption of ICI." She added that it was also "to produce water budgets according to international standards." "By knowing the consumption by sector of activity it is easier to implement effective water saving measures."
"A new project was launched in 2012, with the same objective" she said. In five years "more than 13,182 are in operation under the project." The old meters "are evaluated to ensure that they are in good condition and compatible," they are change otherwise.
This is just a small window into the corruption that exists in in municipal contract grants, Opération Fronde is "on-going" and there is the possibility of more arrests. There are thousands of pages of testimony from the Charbonneau Commission that have lead to UPAC investigations and arrests. Since the water meter contract was cancelled some nine years ago, the city has set up the Office of the Comptroller General and implemented new governance structures for municipal asset management.