The aftermath of a leasing scandal

Back in 2002, when the City of Toronto’s inquiry into its IT contracts with MFP got under way, I thought that phrase would be my contribution to the three-ring circus that ensued. Every scandal needs a tagline, and this one was juicy enough to warrant something special. Consider some of the testimony

we heard: Allegations of back-room bribery, of municipal graft and of a tawdry love affair between supplier and client. Who knew procurement could be this exciting?

Now that it’s all over – the spin-off to the original inquiry heard its lastwitness this week – it’s up to Madame Justice Denise Bellamy to write a reportthat makes the whole effort seem worthwhile. This is a Herculean task that I’msure no one envies. The most notable characteristic of the inquiry was not the outrage the city council members’ shenanigans managed to ignite, but in fact their inability to shock Torontonians, who had resigned themselves to corruption and ineptitude from elected officials. Considering the sponsorship scandal that has since rocked the federal government, LeasingGate simply seems like an apple that fell before the tree.

The one thing Bellamy’s report can’t provide is closure. Time and circumstances have already allowed that to happen on its own. Mel Lastman has been replaced by a younger, wildly popular mayor who used the notion of integrity as the theme of his campaign platform. Several others close to the scandal, including council member Tom Jacobek and former city treasurer Wanda Licyk, have left the municipal stage. The inquiry’s even outlasted the product lifecycle of some of the IT equipment MFP provided. A new supplier, Compugen, has already been chosen before Bellamy’s report could provide any guidance to the process.

Although the successors at City Hall already say a culture shift has taken place, little has really changed. Earlier this week, for example, councillors were buzzing over an invitation from the Greater Toronto Sewer and Watermain Contractors Association to attend a cocktail party and Raptors’ basketball game. Others admitted they had gone to similar events in the past, as many others will continue to do. Contract wins are based on building effective relationships, and that doesn’t often happen in the boardroom alone.

It’s easy to get cynical about government-mandated inquiries, which often represent a tardy attempt by the public sector to show it can police itself despite all evidence to the contrary. That the MFP-related inquiry led to a second process, which looked specifically at external procurement in general, seemed to confirm those suspicions. But the second inquiry was the most positive sign we had that Bellamy recognized the deeper nature of the problems at City Hall.

The worst thing that could come from Bellamy’s report is a mere indictment of those responsible for mismanaging the costs of the city’s IT infrastructure. The press, the public and other city councils have already done that. Instead of merely telling us how this scandal could have happened, she needs to spell out the lessons that will improve procurement processes at the City of Toronto and beyond. No one can justify the cost of those computers, but it’s not too late to show there will be some return on investment for the $19.2 million we’ve spent on these investigations.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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