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LETTER: When will we see accountability at Nalcor?

The Muskrat Falls generation dam's spillway and powerhouse are shown in this in this October 2017 photo supplied by Nalcor Energy. Auditors testified Friday that Nalcor Energy didn’t adequately investigate energy alternatives before going ahead with the Muskrat Falls option.
- Contributed

On Jan. 4, 2014 thousands of Newfoundlanders were left in the dark as a result of an event which would later go down in infamy as Dark NL. We would find out some months later that the reason for this “crisis” was that NL Hydro had failed to conduct basic maintenance on its equipment in Holyrood.

Just think about it for a second; this public utility’s core mandate is to supply us with power and they couldn’t manage to do that because someone in authority decided it wasn’t prudent to do basic maintenance. 

Exactly who made this decision? Despite many attempts by yours truly to find out, we still don’t know.  Surely somebody must have received a pink slip, right?  Again, we don’t know. 

What we do know however, is that following this colossal failure, all of the executives received their generous corporate bonuses. Why would that be you ask? Well, according to the former CEO of Nalcor, even though they couldn’t manage to keep the lights on, they did have a good safety record.

Let’s fast forward to the infamous Budget of 2016. You may recall that during the budget speech, the former Minister of Finance made some references to Nalcor that the Board of Directors didn’t like which caused them to subsequently resign en masse. On their way out the door of the energy warehouse, we found out through an access to information request by former Telegram reporter James McLeod that the chair of the board had concerns regarding a possible conflict of interest that had occurred with a former Board Member. According to the news story, he asked his colleague to dig out the files on the alleged conflict so it could supposedly be used if required in the ongoing public spat with government.

So what ever became of those allegations? Were they ever investigated? If not, why not? Could there have been others in potential conflict?

I wrote the premier, the minister of Natural Resources and the auditor general about this and other matters, but nobody seemed interested in getting to the bottom of it. Why?

Then there’s the issue with the embedded contractors and the supposed inability of our government to force Nalcor to make the information public. Despite changes made to the Energy Corporation Act for that specific purpose last spring, we still can’t find out how our money has been spent.

That brings us to Muskrat Falls and the ongoing inquiry.

To say that the information that has come forward regarding the lowballing of estimates, and the withholding of costs and risk reports is shocking, is a complete understatement. Yet there currently appears to be no appetite by government to hold anyone accountable. 

Shortly after the inquiry was called, I wrote the premier and the minister of Justice and encouraged them to ensure there were resources assigned to follow the proceedings and to review the exhibits as they came forward with the view of initiating both criminal investigations and civil litigations if required.  I also suggested that someone follow this from a human resource management point of view and if warranted, recommend the issuance of pink slips to the various players involved. 

As I received no response, I raised it in the House of Assembly on a number of occasions and the answer I received was “I’m sure there will be plenty of eyes on this inquiry and that there will be people who will initiate such actions as required.”

Will that happen? Not holding my breath. 

I will conclude my little rant by saying that while the intent of setting up Nalcor and giving it the autonomy it required to engage in business transactions, partnerships, equity stakes opportunities, and so on, may have come from the best of intentions, it is clear that this corporation has been like the tail wagging the dog.   The time has come for our government to conduct a full scale review of Nalcor, its structure, its autonomy and authority, as well as the legislation that guides it.  It is time to hold Nalcor accountable to its shareholders, the people of N.L.

Paul Lane, Independent MHA

District of Mount Pearl-Southlands

Related column:

PAM FRAMPTON: Muskrat Falls Inquiry — arrogance takes the stand

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