Friday, April 04, 2008

ICBC scandal adds to Liberal problems

Many scandals start with a bang then fizzle. When they go the other way — like the growing problems at ICBC — it’s a bad sign for government.
This one started when ICBC sent out a low-key news release in mid-February. It said the Crown corporation was investigating the sale of written-off vehicles from its Burnaby research facility. After the vehicles were used for testing, staff fixed some up and ICBC sold them. Up to 198 buyers might not have been told their cars had been written off and repaired, the release said. The issue was one of disclosure.
ICBC followed up March 19 with another news release. The first 277 words dealt with the disclosure issue.
Then in two paragraphs, ICBC mentioned that some employees had bought the vehicles and that there was “some evidence” that employees used the centre to have free repairs done on their personal vehicles.
Heads had rolled, the release hinted. And in the last paragraph it added that PriceWaterhouseCoopers had been hired to do an independent investigation into the centre.
This week, ICBC revealed more. Online auctions run through auto brokers were rigged. ICBC employees who wanted the repaired vehicles put in secret bids and were promised the cars for $100 more than the real top offer.
Legitimate bidders thought they were about to get a deal only to have it snatched away. How many times did this happen? ICBC doesn’t know, but it could be more than 100.
It’s a big embarrassment. ICBC is a monopoly; it’s supposed to operate in the public interest. And it’s fierce in finding and exposing corruption in others — repair shops that commit fraud or people trying to make phony claims.
And he problems follow last year’s scandal at B.C. Lotteries. The ombudsman reported the Crown corporation didn’t have procedures to protect people who brought lottery tickets from fraud, failed to respond when people complained they had been cheated and then misled the public once the problem became public.
That scandal cost the B.C. Lotteries CEO his job. Heading up ICBC — as the NDP has pointed out frequently — is Paul Taylor, who was the architect of the Liberals’ approach to budgeting and finance for the first three years after the 2001 election.
Handling all this fell to John van Dongen, hours after he was appointed to replace John Les as solicitor general. ICBC falls under that ministry – which doesn’t make obvious sense.
Van Dongen started well. He apologized to British Columbians for the lack of integrity and expressed his determination to get answers.
Then the answers – or non-answers – grew weaker. Van Dongen wouldn’t agree to release the already completed ICBC internal report. And he dodged NDP requests that he release the terms of reference for the ongoing PriceWaterhouseCoopers investigation. (The government says the report will be released when it’s done.)
The refusal to release the terms of reference raises big questions. There’s no need for secrecy. And the public has an interest in knowing whether the investigators have been giving a narrow assignment, preventing a full review.
By the second day of questioning, it sounded like that might be a concern — and that van Dongen was prepared to deal with it. The NDP asked again in the legislature for release of the marching orders handed to PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
This time, van Dongen said he had read the terms of reference and planned to speak with the ICBC board about them. And he said he expected the auditors to investigate and report on everything they considered relevant.
This affair doesn’t seem like a threat to Taylor, unless questions are raised about the response or it turns a lot of people knew this was going on. The CEO can’t really be expected to know about problems in a small corner of the business.
But the problems — like the B.C. Rail case and the Dobell affair — are starting to pile up for the Liberals.
Footnote: The government should be relieved that Les is not handling the scandal. His past performance in cases where questions have been raised about his ministry has resulted in self-inflicted damage to the government’s reputation. Van Dongen, despite his own brush with a special prosecutor, is a serious and credible person to handle the problems.


Anonymous said...

The high and mighty moral of this is break your promises quickly and all will be forgiven. Especially by the media. This government has taken the safeguards and openness out of the peoples hands and hidden them behind closed doors.

DPL said...

Paul Taylor was on the way out thew door when the minister was getting set to meet the board today. He is off to greener pastures but with no severance pay. Out of the firing line for Paul!

Anonymous said...

van Dongen, as the Minister of Fish, swore there were only two Atlantic salmon that ever escaped from any fish farm in British Columbia. And you call him serious and credible. Shame on you Paul for your short memory. He proved himself untrustworthy then, why do want us to beieve in him now? said...

Did you have ICBC write your car off.
If you did then ICBC cheated you. They told me, that the value of a written off car is established by viewing the whole North American market. Doing that gives a false low value.
All cars in the States, new or old, are much cheaper than in Canada.
Cars from the Easr coast, are worth way less than cars on the West coast.
So you see how they come up with a cost that is $0000's below fair market value.
Take them to court if you have to, use this information.
I have written a long letter to ICBC and demanded an answer, we'll see if they are honest