01 February 2010

Delusion or Disconnect? Managing public land

 

The news release issued from the provincial finance department in response to the latest report by the Auditor General.

“The Williams Government has been unwavering in its commitment to managing provincial programs, services and financial resources in a responsible and prudent manner.”

and

“Sound governance and responsible management have been the cornerstones of how our government runs the affairs of the province and administers programs and services to meet the needs of our residents."

The Auditor General’s latest report on how the provincial government is managing your money:

Part 2.4:  Managing Crown Land.  There are an estimated 9,000 squatters occupying Crown land illegally but there is no regular program of inspection and enforcement to deal with the problem.

There is no inspection of shoreline Crown land to deal with squatting or any other aspect of land management. 

There is also no inspection program for leased or licensed land to ensure the rules are being followed and taxpayer interest  is protected.

Best example of the impact of the failure:  Humber Valley Resort.  There was no inspection at all until the AG started poking around eight years after the Crown lased the first block of land to the now bankrupt resort.

The Branch did not obtain a purchase and sale agreement that was signed by the Corporation and the chalet lot purchaser indicating an agreed upon purchase price, and did not determine the fair market value of the chalet lots in relation to the purchase price as required under the lease. As a result, the Branch could not demonstrate whether the 6% market value premiums paid by the Corporation were appropriate. [Emphasis added]

In other words, the Crown just accepted whatever the resort sent in a cheque without knowing what the sale price of the chalet involved actually was.

The Branch received market value premiums totalling $2.2 million or an average of $31,460 per chalet lot. The Corporation, upon sale of the chalet lots, would have received a total of $37.2 million or an average of $524,390 per chalet lot. As of September 2008, when the Corporation sought bankruptcy protection, the Branch had received three of the five annual lease payments totalling $3.8 million of the total $6.4 million in payments due over the term of the lease.

And when it comes to strategies and plans, the story isn’t any better:

Branch officials could not demonstrate whether the Geomatics
Strategy Implementation Plan developed in 1999 was ever reviewed
and approved by the Steering Committee or presented to Government
for final approval. Furthermore, there has been no meeting of the
Steering Committee since approximately the year 2000 and the Lands
Branch makes no formal reference to the plan.

The government response, in the order presented in the report:

The Department will determine whether the Geomatics Strategy
Implementation Plan was approved by Government.


The Department will review the relevance of the Geomatics Strategy
Implementation Plan.

In every other point, the department acknowledge the AG had stated departmental policy correctly.  Implicitly that’s an admission the department was not following its own policy.

At all.

Period.

For over a decade.

And that’s despite the fact that since 2003  - in other words for the past seven years – “[s]ound governance and responsible management have been the cornerstones of how our government runs the affairs of the province…”.

Unfortunately, most people in the province probably heard about or read the government news release  - with its obvious falsehood – rather than the frank acknowledgement by the lands department that it was in the process of sorting out the mess.

-srbp-

2 comments:

Lonenewfwolf said...

the lands department has no teeth because the resource industries like mining, energy are so overstated lands gets pushed aside.

apparently no one sees the real value of good land-use planning in this government as it doesn't accommodate the backroom deals, quick bucks, and large scale industry interests that have become insidious in our politics.

if it doesn't fit in nalcors portfolio or align itself with what they've got in mind for that company then it's not on their agenda.

time for a land-use plan. it's sorely needed, and long overdue.

Ed Hollett said...

One of the changes made in 2003 was to shift the lands branch from Government Services and bury it inside what became the natural resources department.

I am not going to dispute your assessment as far as it goes with putting lands as a division with very little priority within government.

That's what this tells me, more than the idea there are funky deals to be cut. And besides, when it comes to interesting land deals, a functioning geomatics system doesn't affect that at all.