9 December 2009 | Jake Kanter
Buyers for the Ontario government must spend public money “like it was their own” to curb waste, auditor general Jim McCarter has said.
McCarter’s annual report said the Canadian province’s funds are “not spent with enough due diligence and oversight”, which means authorities overpay for goods and services and fail to follow proper procedures.
He said: “There is a culture or mindset among some of those accountable for managing and delivering government programmes that does not always prioritise getting maximum value for taxpayers.”
The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care was held up as having particularly poor procurement standards. For instance, the report said the ministry spent C$347 million (£200 million) on assistive devices - including scooters and home oxygen systems – for 294,000 people, but because of a lack of oversight, paid “excessively high prices”. It added that the ministry typically spends C$23,000 (£13,300) on the purchase and upkeep of home oxygen systems over five-year contracts, but has no benchmark for the servicing costs.
Furthermore, the report said the ministry failed to renegotiate costs to reflect falling prices of medical equipment as a result of technological advances.
It also questioned the government’s claim that OntarioBuys – a scheme launched to help cut public procurement costs – helped save C$45 million (£26 million) over the past five years, which was then reinvested in frontline services.
McCarter argued that OntarioBuys did not contribute to all of the C$45 million in cutbacks and the government was unable to demonstrate how C$25 million (£14.4 million) of the savings were ploughed into other services.
“Maximising value for taxpayer dollars must be a priority at the top or it will certainly not be first and foremost in the minds of those responsible for actually delivering services to the public,” McCarter said.
“In these challenging fiscal times, adopting this mindset will be essential if the government is to successfully face the competing challenges of a rising deficit and the need to maintain services to the public.”
The annual study follows a separate report by McCarter earlier this year on eHealth, Ontario’s development of an electronic medical records system. That devastating review claimed contracts were awarded without an open and competitive process, often sole-sourced by Sarah Kramer, CEO of the government agency.