Fraser audit slams Highways and Public Works

As workers repaired the roof at the legislature Friday, Canada’s auditor general Sheila Fraser delivered a damning report on the…

As workers repaired the roof at the legislature Friday, Canada’s auditor general Sheila Fraser delivered a damning report on the territory’s management of its highways and buildings.

“The department has a major responsibility to ensure safe and efficient public highways, bridges, airports and buildings in the territory,” said Fraser in a release.

“To do that properly, it will need to improve its management practices.”

Fraser’s audit examined the department of Highways and Public Works, focusing on the long-term planning the department undertakes for its infrastructure projects and the way it manages and maintains its buildings.

The department came up lacking in several areas, according to Fraser’s report.

The Highways department does not have a “rigorous” approach to planning and maintaining its assets, says the report.

Construction projects, such as roads, bridges, airport runways, community centres and schools, have been allowed to go well over their original budgets and aren’t finished on schedule, it notes.

“In some cases, the problems were beyond the department’s control,” reads the report. “However, the department did not adequately manage the risk of such occurrences. Nor did it conduct the required review of completed projects to evaluate whether it had followed appropriate procedures, observed economy and efficiency, and the objectives for the project.”

Fraser’s audit identifies the government’s lack of a long-term “master plan” for its office space as a major concern.

The report notes the government also doesn’t maximize space that it builds, and lacks a complete inventory of what space each department occupies and needs.

“ (S)ome departments are overcrowded while others have more space than they need,” reads the report.

Much of the government office space is leased through sole-source contracts, which can often be the costliest solution over the long term. “Decisions to lease were often not properly supported or documented,” the report continues.

Many government buildings are falling apart due to age or lack of upkeep.

Compounding the problem, building inspections have not been carried out consistently and have not used any established standards.

“As a result, the department has no up-to-date information on the condition of buildings.” 

Fraser personally gave an official briefing to Yukon MLAs in the legislature on Friday. Several of her officials have accompanied her to Whitehorse.

She planned a press conference for later in the morning.

The department of Highways and Public Works has accepted Frasers’ recommendations.

It has agreed to develop a risk-management plan by 2009 or sooner, a master plan for the office space it owns and leases by the end of the year, and new reporting procedures for the status of transportation infrastructure.

The government has also committed to begin collecting more information to properly maintain its buildings, which will culminate in a building project manual.

In the 2005-2006 fiscal year, the Yukon government spent $60 million on transportation infrastructure and about $52 million to build, lease and maintain its buildings.

Fraser’s audit simply examined how well that money is being spent.

“The department needs to improve its performance measurement and reporting to the legislative assembly,” said Fraser in a release.

“This should include reporting on a regular basis how it is dealing with the issues raised in this report and the condition of transportation infrastructure and government-owned buildings.”

The first casualty of Fraser’s findings was former Highways deputy minister John Stecyk.

Stecyk was fired by the government through an order-in-council in early January.

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