NDP requests full review of SHA contracts linked to vendor-sponsored travel

The Saskatchewan NDP wants more answers regarding vendor-sponsored travel from the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) over the span of two years.

NDP leader Ryan Meili has sent a letter to health minister Jim Reiter asking for more clarification linked to “questionable practices” the SHA followed to sign contracts with companies that covered travel expenses for public employees.

In December, the provincial auditor dug into seven cases chosen out of 30 instances reported to the Ministry of Health during the span of January 2017 to December 2018. The auditor’s report stated there were significant issues involving the majority of those cases.

The auditor found employees either didn’t receive formal approval before travelling, they didn’t properly state the reason for travel or new contracts were awarded to vendors after they sponsored their trip.

“How many of these trips happened, how much was spent in terms of the expenses of the travel, how much was spent in contracts and what’s the connection between how much is spent on travel and where the contracts go,” Meili told reporters on Wednesday morning.

He added it was a random sampling the auditor reviewed in the report which also showed three eHealth employees were let go for violating eHealth’s conflict of interest policy. The same findings showed that SHA employees were taking similar trips that didn’t violate their conflict of interest policy.

Meili believes there are likely more cases showing the same patterns.”I think people need to understand just how many public dollars have been following a route of the best vacation rather than the best value for money,” stated Meili.

“We need to be looking back and we need to look at the status as to whether these trips are still going on.”

When asked why the NDP decided to bring this inquiry to light a month after the auditor’s report, Meili felt it needed coverage after other issues from the report were front and centre. He added it was important to bring this to the public’s attention.

A statement from the government states in November 2018, Premier Scott Moe directed Cam Swan, deputy minister to the premier, to conduct a review of vendor-sponsored travel after concerns were brought to light.

Swan released a comprehensive review in February 2019 with three recommendations, including a comprehensive policy that defined and set out criteria for approval of vendor-sponsored travel.

The purpose of the review was to ensure that a consistent standard and definition would be used across ministries, Crowns and agencies – including the SHA.

The government says reports sent in by health agencies regarding vendor-sponsored travel were all found to have met learning and development or procurement requirements. It doesn’t include the eHealth cases that resulted in the termination of employees.

The provincial government adds it is government the recommendations made in the report follow the auditor’s concerns.

More from 620 CKRM