IT bid-rigging saga continues with conflict of interest twist

One of the Ottawa area IT firms charged in February with bid-rigging several government contracts has launched a conflict of interest complaint to the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.

TPG Technology Consulting Ltd. filed a formal complaint earlier this week, alleging that Crown prosecutor Denis Pilon history’s as a Conservative candidate during the 1997 federal election and $10,000 in donations to the political party constitutes a conflict of interest.

The complaint stems from criminal charges laid by the federal Competition Bureau earlier this year, with the federal agency alleging that seven Ottawa IT firms engaged in bid-rigging for 10 government IT contracts in 2005.

The Bureau, an independent agency that enforces the Competition Act, said the bidders hoped to collectively win and divide the $67 million worth of contracts at both the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC).

TPG has stated the Conservatives are using the prosecution to pressure its company and president Donald Powell to drop the $250-million lawsuit that TPG launched against the federal government and the PWGSC in March 2008. TPG alleged that the federal government deliberately modified its technical evaluation on a $428-million bid for computer support services at the PWGSC, awarding the contract to Montreal-based CGI Group Inc. instead.

With Pilon’s involvement as the lead prosecutor in the case, the alleged conflict of interest is clear, according to TPG.

“We know the Competition Bureau is saying the fact that Mr. Pilon was a former candidate was known and not an issue,” said TPG spokesperson Serge Buy. “But the fact of the matter is when Mr. Pilon started on the file, he did not indicate to anyone that he was a former candidate and furthermore, we understand through private information that his bosses we’re not even aware of this until we started raising the issue.”

Buy also questioned Pilon’s experience with the Competition Act, arguing that the prosecutor has no background on the legislation.

“We find it interesting that a Quebec bureaucrat suddenly moves into the federal government, has no experience in competition law and suddenly becomes the head of what can arguably be called the biggest competition case in Canada to this point,” he said.

In addition to the fact that Pilon’s mere involvement in the case compromises the integrity of the legal proceedings, TPG said, the PSIO complaint also alleges that Pilon has acted against sections of the Federal Prosecution Service Deskbook relating to communications with the media. According to TPG, this included issuing a press release about the charges prior to informing the defendants and leaking other information to the media.

Daniel Brien, director of communications with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC), dismissed all of TPG’s accusations as groundless.

“Mr. Pilon’s past political activity is a matter of public record and it’s the position of the PPSC that it does not give rise to either a real or an apparent conflict of interest,” he said, adding that the PPSC has itself never issued any news releases on the case.

Brien referred any other questions in regards to the management of media relations on the file to the Competition Bureau, which refused to grant an interview on the matter.

The PPSC also declined to comment on the speed of the case and TPG’s claim that the prosecutor has been stalling the proceedings, adding that Pilon has years of experience as a full-time prosecutor in Quebec.

“It’s a bit ridiculous that they brought forward the complaint in February and they haven’t even done full disclosure for their case yet,” Buy said, adding that another meeting is scheduled to deal with these issues next month. “We think this is all a public relations exercise.”

With the conflict of interest complaint, Buy said that TPG and its president remain “cautiously optimistic” for an in-depth investigation.

“The hope is that we’re dealing with an independent and unbiased agency,” he said. “They do report to the government, so that concerns us. But we’re hoping that somebody looks at the whole process and says something is wrong and something smells in the kingdom of Denmark.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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