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Auditors flag no-bid contracts

Business run by 3 government workers got $300,000 in provincial projects

A business run by three B.C. government workers received more than $300,000 in provincial contracts without having to compete against other firms, an internal audit shows.

Protective Safety Systems B.C., operated by three employees in the attorney general's ministry, got 11 untendered contracts to train conservation officers in the use of force from January 2000 to May 2006, the audit said.

The Environment Ministry, which awarded the contracts, broke government rules that require major projects to be advertised and open to public bidding, the audit said.

Internal Audit and Advisory Services, which issued its 19-page final report on Oct. 16, 2007, found no evidence that the contractors charged expenses to the government for outside work or did the work on government time.

But the auditors did state that "improved processes would help reduce the financial exposure or risk of public embarrassment to the ministry."

Environment Minister Barry Penner said Friday that he was unaware of the findings until contacted by the Times Colonist, which obtained a copy of the audit using the province's freedom of information law.

"I'm disappointed to learn that some staff were not following policy," he said. "I've just had a conversation with my deputy minister, and I've asked her to make sure that all staff who have authority to enter into contracts are reminded, in writing, of the government's policy when it comes to competitive bidding."

Penner said he has, at times, approved untendered contracts if there is good reason. But, in this case, "I was not advised about this type of contracting being done, so it did not have my blessing," he said. "And I don't think, based on what I've been told from the audit, it would have had my blessing had I been told about it."

Penner said there is no indication that anyone benefited financially from the untendered contracts. Rather, he said, staff apparently felt that "the only other likely provider would have charged a lot more." It's clear from the audit, however, that's no reason to skirt the bidding process, he said.

Penner said the Conservation Officer Service has adopted all of the audit's recommendations and is now doing some of its own training.

Use-of-force training, however, remains a priority, he said. "Conservation officers have a difficult job to do and, at times, can find themselves in dangerous situations confronting armed individuals in remote locations."

Kamloops Sheriff Barry Adkins, one of the people behind Protective Safety Systems B.C., said he was not privy to the Environment Ministry's contracting decisions. But Adkins said he has found the ministry "highly responsible."

"I think they've put more care into training than most agencies have," he said.

Adkins also rejected auditors' concerns that his business used a name similar to that of a U.S. firm, Protective Safety Systems Inc., which does the same type of work.

The auditors noted that "the three [attorney general] employees have no credentials with, or connection to, Protective Safety Systems Inc. Nevertheless, they used Protective Safety Systems in the name of their organization ... , used the name in the related contract wording, and admitted use of Protective Safety Systems Inc.'s materials through a disclosure to the Ministry of the Attorney General prior to 2003."

Adkins said the auditors got it wrong. He said his business never used another company's materials, so they would have no reason to say they did.

"That's not true," he said. "I wrote the program myself. There isn't another one like it. ... You have to understand what it is that we're talking about. We're talking about wrist locks and arm bars and room searches or approaching vehicles and things. It's just about safety, and nobody has an intellectual right over safety."

As for the name, Adkins said it was cleared by authorities in B.C. before it was registered as a business. However, when someone raised a concern, he changed the name "just so there wouldn't be a perception of conflict; there was no legal conflict."

Adkins said he and his business associates retired from the training business last year, and no longer do contract work for the Environment Ministry.