Eighteen months after British Columbia government auditors ordered officials to develop a plan to better prepare for a global supply chain disruption like the one at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the responsible ministry says it is yet to start working on one.
“The Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness confirms that work for this subject has not yet been initiated in the ministry, and no records yet exist,” an analyst in the government office that responds to freedom of information requests wrote in a Sept. 12 letter. The Tyee had asked for the action plan and any related records.
“It is anticipated that records will exist at a future date, across multiple ministries,” the letter said. “The ministry states that there is a fair likelihood that records will exist at a later date, and that a request submitted later should yield records.”
It is impossible to believe that there has been no reaction whatsoever within the ministry to the auditors’ criticisms, said Lorne Doerkson, MLA for Cariboo-Chilcotin and BC United critic for the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness.
“So you’ve absolutely ignored the auditor and simply done nothing, or there is something there to hide and you’re not prepared yet to discuss it or talk about it,” Doerkson said. “Either way it’s inappropriate and unacceptable.”
The internal audit and advisory services division of the Finance Ministry’s office of the comptroller general took a close look in October 2021 at how the province handled purchases of personal protective equipment in the early months of the pandemic.
Their report “Procurement of Personal Protective Equipment During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Phase 1” is dated March 2022.
“The Government was not prepared for a global supply chain disruption of this scale,” the auditors found. “Although the Government has a system of plans in place to respond to various emergencies, there is a gap in the planning, knowledge and resources relating to the management of a global supply chain disruption.”
That lack of preparation meant the government had to scramble at the start of the pandemic to find and buy PPE at a time when many national borders were closed and many other buyers were competing for scarce resources.
It created a new provincial supply chain co-ordination unit to handle the task with leadership from Emergency Management BC and three ministries: Citizens’ Services; Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation; and Transportation and Infrastructure. The unit also had support from the Provincial Health Services Authority. (Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation has since been renamed Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation.)
Some 18 months after the pandemic’s arrival in B.C., the new supply chain unit had found and bought $61 million worth of PPE, but a significant part of the spending had in fact been wasted.
An estimated $16 million worth of PPE was “disposed of due to quality issues” and a further $13 million worth “expired throughout the year,” the audit report said.
“We require the Government to develop and submit an action plan in response to the recommendations provided in this report, including their timeframe for implementation,” they said. “We will then conduct an annual followup to assess progress in implementing the action plans.”
According to the government, it has so far failed to even start discussing developing a plan.
BC United critic Doerkson said it’s more likely the government is hiding something. “I don’t believe for a second that in 18 months you haven’t done some work on this, and you’re not going to provide one email that you sent to somebody saying, ‘What happened here?’ I mean come on, that does not make sense to me.”
The secrecy is in line with what he has observed from the government on all sorts of sensitive files, including wildfires, health care and the ambulance service, he said.
“With respect to transparency overall, it is very difficult to get the answer to the simplest of questions,” he said. “It’s unsettling if you ask me.... People are at a breaking point with information being withheld from them.”