POLITICS

Fantino refers potential conflict of interest case to watchdog

02/14/2013 03:26 EST | Updated 04/16/2013 05:12 EDT
International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino has referred a potential conflict of interest case to the public sector integrity commissioner.

A former executive with the Canadian International Development Agency who was at the centre of a recent whistleblower watchdog report went on to go work on a CIDA-funded project after he left the agency, according to a French media newspaper report on Thursday.

"It has come to my attention that a former CIDA employee may have been in a conflict of interest," Fantino said in a press release on Thursday.

Naresh Singh, the former CIDA executive, according to the media report, left the agency and went to work for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities as the director in charge of overseeing a new $23.2-million CIDA-funded project. But he resigned from his post at the FCM on Monday, after media tried to reach him for an interview.

On Thursday, the FCM would not say whether Singh was the former CIDA executive singled out in last week's report by the public sector integrity commissioner, but in an email to CBC News confirmed that Singh resigned from the FCM.

"Naresh Singh resigned earlier this week as director of the Caribbean Local Economic Development (CARILED) program, to pursue other employment opportunities," said Mouktar Abdillahi, a media relations advisor for the FCM.

"I am deeply concerned about this issue, which is why I am immediately referring this matter to the public sector integrity commissioner for review," said Fantino.

Public office holders are subject to conflict of interest and post-employment rules.

While it is not clear whether Singh broke any rules or whether Mario Dion, the public integrity commissioner, will open a new investigation into the former CIDA executive, Fantino said future payments for this project will be withheld "until further notice."

The CIDA-funded project (CARILED) is a new, six-year program, being implemented by the FCM as the Canadian executing agency.

Watchdog finds CIDA exec broke the rules

Dion reported that a director general at CIDA had used government employees and equipment to help run a consulting business.

The executive had been with CIDA for nearly 10 years and was well aware of the rules in place guiding his behaviour, Dion said.

"It was not an oversight," Dion said in an interview.

The investigation began after a complaint was filed in 2010 accusing the executive, who is not named in the report, of using office resources such as fax machines and a government email address to conduct private business.

The executive also recruited administrative staff to assist in the job, which essentially was consulting to the private sector on the same subject matter the individual worked on in government, Dion said.

The investigation, which covered two years of records, confirmed the allegations.

The executive left the agency while the investigation was underway.

A spokeswoman for CIDA said the agency did not suffer any financial losses.

"There were rules in place but this individual broke them," Fantino said in a statement. "This misuse of time and resources is completely inappropriate."

The investigation found no widespread problems at the agency, just a single person who broke the rules. The agency's president promised to take steps to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, Dion noted.

Dion's office does not have the power to issue penalties or fines when they find cases of wrongdoing, and can only refer the matter to the department in question.

Troubling track record at agency

Financial management at CIDA has come under scrutiny in the past, most notably the case of former minister Bev Oda, who billed thousands in questionable expenses to taxpayers.

She left politics last year and was replaced by Fantino.

On its website, CIDA also notes a case in which not-for-profit organizations were wrongfully receiving payments.

The case came to light following a disclosure of wrongdoing and the incident was blamed on the failure to conduct appropriate oversight on spending.

"In response, CIDA has taken remedial measures including the reassignment of the employee to other unrelated duties and is pursuing repayment of relevant amounts from the non-for-profit organizations," the statement said.

40 other investigations underway

Tuesday's report is the third since Dion took over as commissioner in 2010, following the high-profile departure of his predecessor.

Christiane Ouimet retired just prior to an auditor general's report slamming her office for essentially failing to do its job.

Since it opened in 2007, there were just seven investigations before she left in 2010; Dion currently has more than 40 underway.