Behind the Week’s headlines: No one should be blamed in the MFP/City of Toronto computer leasing scandal

What is MFP? For many of us it’s monofluorophosphate and we first heard of it in toothpaste commercials while watching Get Smart, Bewitched or F-Troop.

Now MFP also stands for Most Fouled-up Project. The F could be something else but I won’t be the one to say what.

But fouled-up by

whom? It seems likely Mississauga-based MFP Financial Services will not be found as the fouler by the inquiry into why the City of Toronto apparently way overpayed MFP for technology leasing services. Way overpaying being $85 million versus $43 million. That’s right taxpayers. And the inquiry itself is expected to cost $8 million. Toronto City Council has also asked the commissioner of the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry, Madam Justice Denise Bellamy, to look at contracts with U.S.-based Beacon Software Revenue Systems and Remarkable Software.

What you Torontonians have been hearing in the news about the inquiry being stopped before it even started refers to the witness testifying portion.

Proceedings started at 10 a.m., Mon. Sept. 30, and by 10:05 Madam Justice Bellamy sent everyone home for two weeks while a police investigation is undertaken. Seems this soap opera got sudsier as the Ontario Provincial Police look into an alleged attempted bribe of someone at City Hall that may have something to do with the MFP deal.

Media reports have included statements from city types indicating that when these deals were made the threat poised by Y2K led the city to give certain staff members purchasing power they didn’t usually have.

Two things about that:

One, if Y2K had resulted in, say, all Toronto street cars and subways going dead in their tracks (no snide remarks TTC-riders); or the Skydome roof stopping midway in a snowstorm (at least the Jays aren’t a playoff threat, and if it happened at an Argos game nobody would be there to tell about it); or the elevator at the CN tower getting stuck halfway while carrying someone like George W. Bush (maybe not a bad thing) – if any of those things had happened heads would have rolled. That’s why the blank cheques were taken out and some blank minds were allowed to sign them. There are times when a battle must be won at all costs, and for organizations that have lives at stake – like a city – Y2K represented that kind of battle.

Two: I don’t like the “”you-signed, you gotta pay”” attitude of MFP. Yes, even a city lawyer has opined the leasing agreements are legal and binding. But were the agreements fully understood? Were they understandable at all? Were they in the best interests of the customer? It’s not only high-finance, it’s high-technology. More than once, those with purchasing power in both private and public organizations have felt victimized by techno-speaking vendors (leasors, resellers, whatever) who have used their knowledge as a weapon to close a deal.

James Buchok is a former editor of Computer Dealer News. jbuchok@mts.net

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