Ombudsman clears Brampton in procurement investigation, calls for improvements to optimize transparency and accountability
(TORONTO – March 6, 2017) Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé’s investigation into non-competitive procurements in the city of Brampton found no evidence of maladministration, but identified several ways the city could improve its practices.
“Ensuring fairness, transparency and accountability in the procurement process is essential for maintaining public confidence,” Mr. Dubé says in his report, Procuring Progress, posted on the Ombudsman’s website today after it was released by the city. “Although I did not find any maladministration, I believe this case presents a good opportunity for Brampton and other municipalities to consider improvements to their procurement processes.”
The report is the result of the Ombudsman’s first systemic investigation involving a municipality. The office’s mandate was expanded to include Ontario’s 444 municipalities as of January 1, 2016, and most of the 3,773 complaints received about municipalities to date have been resolved without need for formal investigation.
However, in this case, it was the city that invited the Ombudsman to investigate potential misconduct in procurement – even before this new mandate took effect. Mr. Dubé launched his investigation in May 2016 after a review of available evidence.
The investigation focused on Brampton’s processes for non-competitive procurements, which account for about $29 million of city spending per year, and included interviews with some 30 former and present city officials, as well as the review of tens of thousands of documents and best practices in other jurisdictions. Former city of Toronto auditor general Jeff Griffiths was also consulted for his expertise. From the outset, Mr. Dubé announced that the probe would not include Brampton’s controversial Southwest Quadrant project, as it had already been reviewed and remains the subject of pending litigation.
“Our office found no evidence of maladministration in the city’s purchasing by-laws, policies or procedures, in the documents we reviewed or in any of our interviews with staff,” Mr. Dubé states in the report, explaining that this means no formal recommendations under the Ombudsman Act were warranted.
However, investigators did identify several areas where the city’s purchasing practices and oversight of procurements could be improved, including training of staff and council members, follow-up on internal audits and the function of the city’s audit committee. The report proposes 15 “best practices” to enhance transparency and public confidence.
Along with appointing an auditor general (as Toronto, Ottawa, Markham and Sudbury have done), the best practices include improving staff training on purchasing policies, publicizing the function of the internal audit division and ensuring its independence, improving how internal audit reports are shared and followed up on, and adding qualified members of the public to the audit committee.
“The city of Brampton’s recent past is filled with controversy, leading some members of the public, as well as members of council, to lose trust in the city,” Mr.Dubé says in the report. “Establishing an independent, permanent auditor general would help re-establish the public’s confidence in the city and ensure that the public trusts the city to act fairly, accountably and transparently. I urge the City of Brampton to consider this best practice, as well as the others contained in this report, during its present reorganization and transformation.”
The city was given a chance to review and comment on the Ombudsman’s suggestions. In response, its Chief Administrative Officer said many of these were “in line with the changes that are being undertaken by the city,” and expressed the hope that reviews of the purchasing by-law and of the internal audit division would result in “an innovative approach for continuous improvement that other municipalities will want to follow.”
Mr. Dubé said he was “encouraged by the city’s interest in ensuring the quality of the internal audit function as well as its commitment to consider my suggestions and best practices as it continues to review its procurement practices.”
The Ombudsman is an independent officer of the Ontario legislature who resolves and investigates public complaints about provincial government bodies, municipalities, universities and school boards – and recommends solutions to individual and systemic administrative problems. Ombudsman recommendations are not binding but have been overwhelmingly accepted by government bodies – prompting numerous systemic reforms, including upgraded screening of newborn babies, a fairer property tax system and an overhaul of how police are trained to de-escalate conflict situations.
The Ombudsman’s full report can be found here.
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