City hall has officially acknowledged it is operating a public fraud hotline.

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This article was published 22/12/2014 (2537 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

City hall has officially acknowledged it is operating a public fraud hotline.

A news release from city hall today trumpeted the existence of the fraud and waste hotline — even though city council had authorized it almost two years ago and it has been secretly in operation since July 2013.

"The City of Winnipeg’s web page has been updated to provide information and access to the Fraud & Waste Hotline," today’s news release states. "The Hotline is available to all citizens as a convenient and confidential way to report any observed or suspected fraud, theft or misuse involving city resources.

em"Reports should be about a specific incident and should, to the extent possible, include the – ‘who, what, when and where.’"

A city spokesman said technical issues prevented the hotline from being operational today.

The news release does not detail the history and origin of the fraud hotline and does not explain why it’s taken civic officials so long to publicize its existence, which was first reported by the Free Press in September.

A senior official with the city auditor’s department attributed the delay to a heavy work load.

Bryan Mansky, the deputy city auditor, said the fraud hotline is considered an integral component of an "effective governance framework."

"The (city auditor’s) department was fully engaged in other priorities," Mansky said in explaining the delay. "With the completion of these priority projects the department was able to consult with stakeholders and other jurisdictions to prepare the information package to support the public’s access to the hotline."

Although the hotline was authorized by council almost two years ago, its existence was only acknowledged in September, buried in an administrative report from the City Auditor’s office that the phone line had been up and operating since July the year before but with few complaints.

Of course, very few people, in or out of city hall, were aware of the existence of the hotline, including the city’s 311 staff — who are supposed to know about all civic programs and initiatives.

When the Free Press called 311 in September to verify the existence of the hotline, the 311 operator knew nothing of the hotline and was not able to confirm its existence, not even after consulting with his supervisor.

At the time, Mansky said, "we are currently finalizing the web pages for the city’s Internet website," and that its publication would be posted shortly.

The city’s confidential hotline for employees remains operational but technical problems Monday took it out of service.

The September administrative report said there were only 16 complaints made to the hotline in 2013 — the report doesn’t say if the complaints were from employees or the public.

The auditors’ office, which called for the creation of the public hotline in a 2010 report, found other municipalities which operate a public hotline have been getting far greater complaints. In 2009, Toronto had 677 reports; Calgary, 52; Edmonton, 44; and Ottawa, 165.

The city auditor’s office stated in the September report that of the 16 complaints made to the hotline in 2013, 14 were referred to a department for investigation and are now considered closed; one report was investigated by the auditor’s office and is also closed; no action was taken on one report.

The September report stated only four of the complaints were substantiated and resulted in changes to management practices. The report doesn’t state if any employees were disciplined because of a complaint to the hotline.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca