Bellringer forced to bail on investigating Hydro whistleblower complaint
Less than 48 hours after The Black Rod exposed Carol Bellringer's cozy ongoing relationship with the Manitoba Hydro board of directors, she was headed for the showers in shame.
For months Auditor General Bellringer had insisted that the fact she had been a recent member of Hydro's board didn't mean she couldn't conduct an independent unbiased review of a whistleblower's complaint involving allegations of Hydro mismanagement.
Everything changed Sunday when The Black Rod revealed that Bellringer has been sending a representative to every single Hydro board meeting to take notes and report back to her on what is said.
This previously unreported unbroken connection between Bellringer and Hydro means that she has been getting one-sided reports into the whistleblower's complaint of mismanagement (at the time Bellringer was one of the managers) for months, if not years, before the whistleblower complaint wound up on her desk.
On Monday, the axe dropped. (Our Legislature mole told us.) On Tuesday the news release was released.
"A disclosure made under the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower) Protection Act had been forwarded by the ombudsman to the auditor general to be dealt with in accordance with the Auditor General Act.
"Carol Bellringer, the auditor general, has advised the whistleblower that, due to the sensitivity associated with addressing that disclosure, it has been returned to Irene Hamilton, the ombudsman. Hamilton has agreed to follow up the disclosure as originally filed under the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower) Protection Act."
The auditor general "then bolted out the door for the day without answering any questions from reporters", according to Kevin Engstrom of the Winnipeg Sun.
That's not like her.
Up to Monday Bellringer has been vocal and aggressive in clinging to control of the whistleblower's complaint.
She shrugged off calls by the Opposition to recuse herself. She ignored editorials pointing out her conflict of interest. She dodged the attention of the press at a Hydro accountability committee meeting one week ago.
But when The Black Rod reported the news the mainstream media missed at that meeting, she walked her last mile with the Whistleblower brief:
· The revelation of the previously unknown communications channel from Manitoba Hydro to their former board member who is conducting an investigation of a whistleblower's complaint about Manitoba Hydro.
* A declaration by the Opposition that they rejected in advance the government-ordered expedited special audit because of the Auditor General's obvious conflict of interest.
* The committee's vote to reject Hydro's annual reports, spelling trouble for the NDP in the coming session of the Legislature.
Bellringer may have fallen on her sword to save unelected Premier Greg Selinger from further pain in having to defend the indefensible, but the damage she's done lives on.
She managed to waste nine months sitting on the whistleblower's complaint without interviewing a single person. The complaint was filed with the Ombudsman last December who turned it over to the Auditor General in March, which means in almost one year, absolutely nothing has been done with it.
The so-called watchdogs of the public interest have managed to make a complete farce of the Act designed to encourage whistleblowers to come forward.
- Ombudsman Irene Hamilton has to accept partial responsibility herself.
The act reads:
20(2) An investigation is to be conducted as informally and expeditiously as possible.
Nobody can claim with a straight face that this first test of the Act has been conducted "expeditiously."
Hamilton must act immediately to minimize the damage done by Bellringer to the process.
She must assign the investigation of the whistleblower's complaint forthwith to somebody with the expertise to understand the complaint.
Forget the fanciful politicians' advice of hiring some outside retired auditor general. We don't have the time for a layman to master the learning curve of the world of generating hydroelectricity.
The most obvious investigator-designate is the Public Utilities Board, which knows this stuff inside and out. And for more than a year now they've demanded Hydro supply them with inside risk studies, and Hydro has thumbed its nose at them. What poetic justice to assign the examination of the whistleblower's complaint to the PUB.
But Hamilton's job has grown since the complaint was first slipped to her.
She must broaden her enforcement of the Public Disclosure Act to include an investigation into breaches of the whistleblower's identity by Hydro CEO Bob Brennan.
The Act reads:
Purpose of this Act
The purpose of this Act is
(a) to facilitate the disclosure and investigation of significant and serious matters in or relating to the public service, that are potentially unlawful, dangerous to the public or injurious to the public interest; and
(b) to protect persons who make those disclosures.
5(2) The procedures established under subsection (1) must include procedures
(d) for protecting the identity of persons involved in the disclosure process...
Brennan has done everything he could do to identify the consultant who filed the complaint until there isn't a person at Hydro who doesn't know who it is. This must be censured, if only to send a message to furture employers.
And Hamilton must investigate the reign of intimidation Brennan imposed on all employees who might be friends with the whistleblower. This, too, cannot be condoned. To assume these employees would now file a complaint against Brennan is ludicrous. They must be sheltered under the umbrella of the legal protection provided the whistleblower.
- At the same time Rosann Wowchuk, the minister in charge of Hydro, must be stripped of her responsibility. She has proven an egregious lack the judgement.
Wowchuk defended Bellringer's independence at every turn, right up to the legislative committee meeting last Tuesday which produced the damning information that forced Bellringer to step away from the Whistleblower's complaint. She's obviously a good soldier for the NDP, someone who can be trusted to toe the party line regardless of the truth and the facts.
She's exactly the person the public cannot trust.
- And let's not forget unelected Premier Greg Selinger who held the Hydro portfolio for the first eight months the consultant's complaint languished, first in the Ombudsman's office and then in the Auditor General's listless hands. He had the responsibility to ensure the complaint was dealt with "as expeditiously as possible", and he failed.
He must apologize to the citizens of Manitoba.
Wait up, Carol. There's obviously plenty of shame to go around.