Lack of oversight in highway contracts fails to protect Saskatchewan public

New report finds that Saskatchewan's private highway contracts make the province vulnerable to paying for poor and expensive work.

Regina (17 June 2015) — A new report from the Saskatchewan Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives raises serious concerns about accountability and oversight in the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure (MHI) contract road-building system. 

Systemic neglect and carelessness

Blank Spaces: The Accountability and Oversight Gap in Saskatchewan’s Contract Roadbuilding System by Taylor Bendig identifies systemic neglect and carelessness within the Ministry’s contracts with private roadbuilders.

Mr. Bendig’s review of over 250 Ministry contracts illustrates a pervasive pattern of negligence as basic accountability measures such as price breakdowns, contract completion dates, late penalties and performance deposits are only used sporadically if at all.

Government vulnerable to paying for poor quality and expensive work

The report also finds that vague and open-ended highway construction contracts leave the government particularly vulnerable to paying for work “that is unsatisfactory or excessively expensive.”

Indeed, with spending on highways reaching record-highs, the inability of the government to maintain even basic mechanisms of accountability and oversight in its roadbuilding contracts contributes to a system that is potentially ripe for abuse.

The author concludes with a series of recommendations that could restore a measure of accountability and transparency to the roadbuilding system.

Highlights of the report

  • The Ministry routinely fails to use its own accountability measures. In 100% of the contracts studied, no performance deposit was required. In 98% of the contracts, there was no specified penalty for late work. 42% had no detailed pricing breakdown, 37% left details of work open-ended, while 16% had no contract completion date.
  • Spending on consultants has increased over 400% since 2008, far outpacing both the growth of the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure (MHI) budget and the use of consultants by other ministries.
  • Despite records levels of spending by MHI, the information needed to judge the effectiveness of its contracted-out roadbuilding system is hidden by privacy law and a lack of proactive disclosure.
  • MHI's difficulty in answering requests raises doubts about its ability to collect, organize, and access vital information about the cost and efficiency of the roadbuilding system.
  • Saskatchewan is not alone: other provinces whose highways ministries rely on contractors consistently face serious accountability and oversight problems.
  • The author recommends that the Ministry ensure contracts are completed in full, including itemized pricing breakdowns, reasonable project completion dates and corresponding late fees. The Ministry should enhance its internal data gathering and organization systems to ensure the proper collection of necessary data. MHI should also implement a system of proactive disclosure. More detailed information regarding the cost of employing contractors, as well as details on contractor performance, should also be made public as a matter of routine.

More information:

Blank Spaces: The Accountability and Oversight Gap in Saskatchewan’s Contract Roadbuilding System

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