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Put away the rubber stamp

A recent audit of the city’s fleet inventory and purchasing functions has discovered that a lack of communication, poor infrastructure and shoddy record keeping could be to blame for unneeded purchases and ill-informed decisions.

More troubling is the fact that this is only the latest in a string of audits from Oshawa’s external auditor KPMG, which has uncovered nearly verbatim issues in a series of other city departments.

Similar to the fleet audit, which found that a lack of vehicle assessments has led to the city being unaware of when or if vehicles need to be replaced, an audit of the real-estate function late last year discovered that the city was unable to hand over a full list of its tenants renting city facilities and further investigation found that a number of them were either being billed incorrectly, or not at all.

It doesn’t end there. The audit of the city’s health and safety training systems completed earlier this year found that the city’s reliance on an archaic, paper-based system has led to nobody knowing if staffers have the correct training to complete their jobs. All of that is on top of the fact that an audit completed in July of 2016 found that the city has absolutely no set policy for tracking worker overtime.

And those are just the infrastructure issues. The audits have also discovered that a lack of communication throughout the city appears to be imbedded in many departments.

In terms of fleet, while only a small number of staffers are able to officially make purchases, KPMG could find little evidence that purchases were ever validated.  At the real-estate level, council was surprised when a $20,000 bill to repair the aging Visitor’s Centre (which the city owns) fell into their lap. It was later discovered that staff knew this money would fall to the city based on the lease agreement with the Chamber of Commerce. Somehow, nobody thought to tell council and this information was omitted from the staff report that hit the council floor.

Each of these audits has received little to no discussion from councillors who praise the improvements, and the KPMG recommendations for fixing them. It’s all about “steering a tighter ship” as one councillor put it.

If council really wants to steer a tighter ship, it needs to take a better look at the people running around in the background, because these decisions are not just notes on paper, they are real taxpayers dollars.

The city’s faults in the real-estate function found an $82,000 shortfall, fleet may be making improper purchases only to have to pay more to upgrade the vehicles later to ensure they can do the job (something they did with an order of Chevy half-tons), and the overtime audit found that staff’s much-praised practice of “gapping” positions (leaving them vacant to save money) could actually be costing the city more money because it puts more strain on the rest of the employees and forces them to work more.

The most troubling, is that the latest audit has found that even when certain safeguards are in place, like a vehicle assessment to ensure the purchase is warranted, if staff doesn’t like the results, they just go to council and ask for changes.

As the watchdog for the city, council needs to start seriously questioning the staff creating these reports.