Alberta’s Public Interest Commissioner has found Alberta Health Services did not commit wrongdoing, as defined by the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act, in its 2012 computer purchase and deployment in the Edmonton Zone.
The Act defines wrongdoing as: an illegal act; an act or omission that creates an imminent risk to the health and safety of individuals; a specific threat to the environment; gross mismanagement of public funds or a public asset; or knowingly directing or counseling an individual to commit a wrongdoing.
The investigation, launched in January in response to whistleblower allegations, examined whether the project resulted in the gross mismanagement of public funds or a public asset. Investigators determined gross mismanagement did not occur because:
- The purchase was made to replace outdated computers used in clinical units in the Edmonton Zone;
- The procurement utilized a public tender process;
- The bulk purchase significantly reduced per-unit costs;
- The project was funded using the surplus operating budget;
- AHS negotiated an additional no-cost year of warranty for the desktop computers; and
- AHS identified issues with the deployment, and was taking steps to resolve the issue before the first whistleblower complaint was made.
However, the Commissioner’s investigation shows some decisions were poorly executed during the purchase and deployment:
- A $75,000 sole-source consultant contract was approved by a senior AHS executive in late 2012. Investigators determined a conflict of interest existed, as the individual who recommended and co-signed the contract was a former partner and shareholder with the corporation receiving the contract. This conflict of interest was not disclosed to AHS.
- The procurement was rushed to draw on available funding. There was no testing of applications prior to the computer purchase, and no deployment plan. This resulted in project delays. Moreover, $4.4 million in funding for the deployment was authorized without a project charter.
- An analysis of the project’s procurement process revealed a failure to comply with some policies related to the approval of contract requisitions, and engaging corporate consultants.
“While wrongdoing did not occur, some actions were clearly not done right during this purchase and deployment, particularly the undisclosed conflict of interest,” said Peter Hourihan, the Public Interest Commissioner. “While any employee may be exposed to a potential conflict, a senior executive should understand the importance of declaring a conflict when one arises. This is a significant issue.”
Hourihan noted the investigation demonstrates Alberta’s new disclosure process can work.
“Allegations of wrongdoing were raised and taken seriously,” he said. “While wrongdoing was not found, AHS had taken steps to deal with some of the problems that sparked the initial complaint. Moreover, our investigators identified other issues of concern, and AHS has committed to dealing with these in an appropriate and timely manner. Most importantly, someone blew the whistle anonymously, and it resulted in a meaningful response.”
The Commissioner can investigate provincial departments, offices of the legislature, and public entities including: agencies, boards, commissions and Crown corporations with employees; public sector health organizations (including physicians with AHS); post-secondary institutions; school boards; charter schools; and accredited private schools that receive public funding.
Public Interest Commissioner