The fight against corruption is paying big dividends, the Quebec government said in announcing a $240-million savings on road contracts alone for the first 10 months of the year.
Minister of Transportation Sylvain Gaudreault said the building and maintenance of roads and bridges in the province has dropped 16 per cent below the estimated costs projected for 2013, as the battle against corruption and collusion has forced builders and engineering firms to play by a tougher set of rules.
"There is a real change in culture taking place and it will intensify over time," Mr. Gaudreault said, releasing his plan for a major shift in the way government road-building contracts are managed. "Just for the first 10 months, we estimate the savings to be $240-million below projected costs. That's the direction we are headed in, and we are certain there will be more savings."
In the coming days, Mr. Gaudreault will table a bill to create the Quebec Transportation Agency, which will oversee the approval and monitoring of hundreds of millions of dollars in annual road-building and maintenance contracts. The minister explained that the new agency would have greater flexibility in developing the internal expertise to monitor the construction projects. He added it would also have more independence from potential political influence that tainted the awarding of contracts in the past.
"The agency will be more efficient," Mr. Gaudreault insisted. "The future agency will have the flexibility to hire the expertise… and ensure closer monitoring of the construction projects."
Several reports have underscored flaws in the awarding of government contracts where the monitoring of the projects was often contracted out to the same engineering firms that had designed the projects. According to the reports, the lack of oversight was partly due to the shortage of expertise in the Ministry of Transportation, where cutbacks in personnel had deprived the government of the know-how needed to supervise the work.
Mr. Gaudreault explained that over the past year his ministry has hired 321 employees – including 118 engineers – to "reinforce" the expertise in his department. "This will continue more intensively under the new agency," he promised.
But in order for the agency to be created, the Parti Québécois minority government will need the support of at least one of the two main opposition parties in the National Assembly. The Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Québec are awaiting the tabling of the bill before deciding on whether to support the government.
The Charbonneau Commission into corruption in the construction industry lifted the veil on the schemes deployed by engineering and construction firms to fix prices and bribe local officials handling municipal infrastructure projects. The probe will soon delve into the awarding of provincial contracts as the inquiry attempts to disclose connections involving firms receiving government contracts and provincial party officials.
The revelations made at the inquiry have created a shock wave throughout the industry while upsetting the patterns of corruption created by organized crime and corrupt officials that included fraudulent cost overruns and shabby workmanship. The Parti Québécois government has promised legislation in the coming weeks aimed at recovering at least part of the money obtained by construction and engineering firms through collusion and fraud.