It was B.C.’s Auditor General versus the Provincial Health Officer in a battle for media and public attention on Aug. 26.
The winner was obvious. Dr. Bonnie Henry, Health Minister Adrian Dix and vaccine rollout czar/Vancouver Coastal Health chair Penny Ballem announced the schedule for third doses of the coronavirus vaccine at 1:30 p.m. They also held a 12:15 p.m. embargoed briefing for media.
Auditor General Michael Pickup’s presser began at 2 p.m. and finished around 15 minutes later, while Henry et al continued with their presentation. Reporters from theBreaker.news and Canadian Press were the only two asking Pickup questions.
It is standard operating procedure for the Office of the Premier and Government Communications and Public Engagement to avoid scheduling conflicts.
Pickup was diplomatic when theBreaker.news asked whether he was disappointed that his important work wouldn’t get the maximum audience.
“My focus is on those who we are reporting to, what happens as a result, reasonably getting the message out and then other things that happen, happen,” he said.
Judging by what Pickup had released earlier in the day, this clock clash was no coincidence.
For the 10th year in a row, the Office of the Auditor General disagreed with the way the government keeps its books, and said the government had under-reported revenue by $6 billion. Pickup’s staff found $550 million in errors in the financial statements.
Pickup also reported the government spent $10.8 billion on responding to COVID-19 in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2021. Once again, the Provincial Health Services Authority came under the microscope.
PHSA, responsible for buying $2 billion-a-year of medical goods, wrote-off $66 million in masks, gloves, goggles and other pandemic gear. Instead of specialized inventory management software to track goods between warehouses, PHSA used Google Spreadsheets.
“PHSA has two electronic inventory management systems: one to track the monetary value and quantity of inventory, and the other to track the movement of inventory between warehouses,” the report said. “The new third-party warehouses and PHSA owned warehouses that were commissioned in fiscal year 2020/21 did not use either system.”
Warehouse staff did not complete inventory reconciliations on time and even had to re-count $100 million worth of inventory at one warehouse due to errors.
Wrote Pickup: “COVID-19 revealed the dangers and challenges the health sector faces when buying PPE in a globally competitive environment, and how important it is to have strong procurement controls in place and to obtain expert advice when purchasing specialty products.”
theBreaker.news asked PHSA for comment, but it said it could not provide anything by deadline.
It is not PHSA’s first PPE problem. CEO Benoit Morin was fired last February after it was revealed PHSA wrote-off $7 million in defective N95 masks from a Montreal company.
Morin never publicly commented on the panic buy so soon after he was hired. theBreaker.news revealed in July 2020 that a PHSA briefing note showed almost two-thirds of British Columbia’s pandemic supplies were never replenished before the novel coronavirus hit the West Coast.
A February 2020 memo obtained under the freedom of information law warned that B.C.’s low supplies were not enough to meet requirements if a widespread pandemic occurred.
A widespread pandemic was declared the next month. B.C.’s supplies were so low, that Premier John Horgan’s deputy minister issued an urgent call for bureaucrats to search under their desks.
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