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    Infrastructures: the OIQ calls for a public inquiry to restore confidence

    lundi 26 octobre 2009
    • This is an op-ed letter penned by Mrs. Maud Cohen, Eng., President of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec sent to the press on October the 26th 2009
    • At a time when Québec is deploying an unprecedented effort on renewing and rehabilitating its infrastructures, the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec considers a public inquiry into the awarding of public infrastructure contracts and their management to be essential. The goal: to ensure that we are paying a fair price, that the work is done properly and that the confidence of the public, which has been seriously shaken by recent events, be restored.
      In the fall of 2007, the Québec government announced an ambitious five-year investment program to correct the severe maintenance deficiency resulting from decades of neglect.  These efforts were intensified for the current economic context.  All told, more than $40 billion is to be invested by the Québec government by 2013.
      No doubt that such spending is fully justified. The OIQ, along with other organizations, has worked hard to make this happen. For years, based on its concern for the public interest, the OIQ has worked to convince authorities, both provincial and municipal, of the necessity for long-term management of public infrastructures and allocating the resources this requires.  We were especially insistent on this point during our participation in the Commission investigating the collapse of a portion of the La Concorde Overpass. Our recommendations received broadly attention.  Since then, we have spoken out on several occasions, in particular on the need for the municipalities to adopt rules for managing their infrastructures. It is worth saying again clearly: this investment is both necessary and urgent and should continue over the long term, beyond 2013.
      But what do we see happening?  Because of fraudulent activities, these efforts are being subverted.  It appears that we are paying much too much for these works.  Given the flood of allegations of all kinds, we have the unpleasant sensation that we were cheated.  In a context where we are asking everyone to make serious efforts, this is inacceptable and worse, it is appalling.
      Are we facing systematic fraud, solidly established in numerous municipalities? I don't know.  To what extent are engineers implicated?  I don't know that either.  But we will find out the truth.  The OIQ has begun to investigate.
      Likewise, as a society we have to get to the bottom of these charges.  Police investigations, and those made by the OIQ, will help identify those who were responsible. But the system, if there is one, must be found and revealed so that it can be eliminated and replaced by clear, transparent rules of governance and management.  A public inquiry will allow the facts to be identified, placed in perspective and examined objectively.
      Many risk having their reputations sullied, and it is possible that engineers will be among them.  Like the directors of the OIQ, I am shocked  and upset by the suspicions hanging over our profession, especially because, year after year, engineers are ranked among the professionals most trusted by the general public.  Besides our own investigations, we intend to follow and participate in any public inquiry the government may undertake.  We care about the trust the public has shown in us and we intend to preserve it.
      More than just engineers, the whole political system and the public service must enjoy such confidence, controlled by appropriate rules of governance.  We are ready for a serious exercise in introspection. Let's do it.

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