16 June 2005

Negatively impacting on the brain housing group: Another D'oh for D'underdale!

Last year, no one in the provincial government managed to do a simple online search for information on Sino-Energy. One of the partners, a Chinese state-owned enterprise is under sanctions from the American government for selling military components to countries like North Korea.

Apparently no one also bothered to check with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service about Chinese intelligence agencies using their state-run businesses as cover for spying. There have been a couple of stories this week already about statements by former Chinese officials about the extent of Chinese espionage in Canada and Australia.

Then yesterday, we find out that no one bothered to check out American call-centre company Teletech using what Jack Harris has hilariously referred to as due diligence for dummies: the Internet search engine google.

Turns out there are class-action law suits in the US alleging unfair labour practices. No real surprise there since a friend flipped me a couple of hits from his google activities on Teletech. Now, my buddy was rotted that the provincial government wouldn't even give a ball-park estimate of how much money the province was going to pump into this company. Then he found out that this company doesn't even have contracts secured to support their new Mount Pearl operation. He rotted more, if that was possible.

Actually, a simple google search for "teletech + law" also turns up references to other alleged unfair labour practices like this one from Australia. There's also the obligatory MSN site where people can gripe about Teletech. There have been some copyright and trademark cases between similarly named companies in the United States.

My favourite is this economics exam from Washburn University. Take a look at the way the instructor has put together question five. Seems the people of Kansas are lazy and known to be so. Wage costs for Teletech would lower in Montana, according to the question preamble, but the Montanans are unreliable.

Question 5.c hits on one major aspect of the call centre business and Teletech is big on this one: how much of a subsidy will they need to make operating in Topeka worthwhile or words to that effect.

That's another aspect of the google search on Teletech. They like subsidies. Here's a release from 1996 when Teletech opened a call centre in Niagara Falls New York. In this release, then-Governor George Pataki listed off the cash being handed out to lure the company to New York. My question on some of these has to do with turn-over: does the company get cash for every employee up to a maximum period of time? If so, then check to see how many employee stay on the books after that period. Subsidies could be a perverse incentive to turn over huge numbers of employees, while maximizing company revenues. If you need to follow the logic, go back and re-read the Washburn economics question.

There's also a fair bit of positive stuff, too, on Teletech, just to make sure you know it isn't all bad.

But actually, none of that, while entertaining, is really the point.

The real problem here is that the provincial government appears to be completely incompetent when it comes to assessing fully companies looking to do business in the province with tax money. The government's "due diligence piece", as Innovation Trade and Rural Development minister Kathy Dunderdale calls it is far from diligent and there is no reasonable explanation for the repeated failures.

In a television interview last evening with CBC, the minister for the department with the apt acronym InTRD, said that the "due diligence piece" had been completed before these law suits were filed and that government had been in discussions with Teletech for about 18 months (early 2004).

Curiously, this decision before the American Labour Relations Board was handed down in December 2003 and found Teletech guilty of unfair labour practices. This site notes that one of the class action suits in the stuff the media talked about on Wednesday was filed in February 2004.

In another interview, the minister said that the outside companies hired to carry out the "due diligence piece" would not necessarily pick up these sorts of issues. So what were they looking for? Lint?

She also said this information turned up by reporters wouldn't have "negatively impacted" on government's decision, had it been known.

The problem, Kath is not that you might have acted differently if you knew. The point is you just didn't have all relevant information in front of you when you opened my chequebook to hand some American company some of my cash.

The problem is that we out here among the toiling masses don't know what else it is that you don't know before you make a decision.

Aside from anything else at that point in the interview, I just cringed at that abysmal use of the English language. Does the minister think the use of phrases like "negatively impacted" makes her sound smarter? If you can't say it in plain English, then you really have no idea what you are trying to say.

Maybe it is time the minister of business started talking in plain English.

Maybe she could get her officials to use some plain old common sense.

Maybe then she could actually get on with the job of being the minister of InTRD rather than the minister in t*rd.