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This article was published 18/3/2019 (953 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
AFTER discovering financial irregularities dating back to 2012, the Manitoba government said it has asked the auditor general to conduct a forensic investigation of its pit and quarry rehabilitation program.
"Key findings to date demonstrate a misuse of public funds and potential fraudulent activity, as well as lack of proper oversight by the former government," a provincial spokesperson said in a prepared statement.
"In 2012, the former government increased authority for sole-source contracts from $25,000 to $50,000, enabling the dispersal of higher untendered amounts of program funds that did not have proper oversight and reporting," the spokesperson alleged.
The matter was referred to the auditor for a closer look and, given the legal implications, the province said it would not comment further.
The program dispersed from $3 million to $4 million per year, the government said. Aggregate producers lobbied the provincial government to establish the fund, which was maintained by the province's mining branch. Producers paid a 12-cent per tonne environmental levy on all current and future projects, a government description of the program online says.
Norm Ricard, Manitoba’s auditor general, confirmed on Friday the investigation was referred to him by the finance minister and is ongoing. He wouldn’t elaborate.
The program, which has existed since the 1990s, was put on hold last summer when the province stopped taking new applications.
Manitoba Heavy Construction Association president Chris Lorenc said the freeze-out has hurt pit and quarry owners. The mysterious circumstances behind the program’s suspension also raised a red flag.
"They weren’t specific about why it was under review. They told us it was under audit review and that’s all we know," Lorenc said, noting the association would have appreciated more transparency.
The association said it asked the province to improve the pit and quarry rehabilitation standards.
"We are quite prepared to pay more through the dedicated extraction fee, to ensure that we can rehabilitate more," Lorenc said. "So we support the program, we support the dedicated extraction because it fully cash-funds the outcomes of quarry activities in communities."
The government’s online description says the rehabilitation of quarries means returning them to become "safe, environmentally stable and compatible with adjoining lands."
"The public benefit is served once this standard has been reached," the website reads. "If the landowner then wishes to initiate further site development, to establish a housing subdivision or a golf course, for example, they must do so at their own expense."