Drip… Drip… Drip... there goes someone’s reputation

di Joe Volpe del 5 April 2019

TORONTO - That’s our reputation being flushed down the drain. Thank you SNC Lavalin.

The Company seems to have so thoroughly insinuated the Canadian political system that international bodies and jurisdictions are having a re-think about those “values” once attributed to the Canadian way.

Upholding the rule of law, as an example, abroad and at home. Promoting human Rights and democratic institutions, everywhere – even if there is a cost to competitiveness, as another.

Also, honesty in respecting the guidelines accepted by the business community and government departments in the applying for and allocating subsidies indicated for the “levelling of the playing field” in the marketplace.

In the last 52 weeks SNC Lavalin has traded at a high of $61.01. Yesterday, it opened at $34.49.

Is there a co-relation with the investigations of graft, bribery and corruption various governing bodies from Asia, Africa, South America and even here in Canada have levelled against its operating practices? The answer is a moving target.

However, its CEO has foregone a scheduled bonus of $1.45 million for this last fiscal year, up from the $1.1 million he “earned” in the previous one.

The company lobbied heavily to mitigate potential damage to its “competitive” position any litigation might result. It demanded to have a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) included in the Criminal Code.

Such a DPA would allow the Director of Prosecutions in office of the Attorney General to “plea bargain” a fine in lieu of criminal trial for companies in violation of international and domestic laws.

For instance, a company, like SNC Lavalin, if engaged in corrupt practices abroad, could presumably find itself facing those charges in Canadian courts.

With a DPA, if it were to meet specifi ed standards, it could avoid the criminal justice system and submit to relief in commercial court. That way it could continue to bid on government contracts posted by Canadian governments.

Currently, upon conviction, such a company would be debarred from bidding on such contracts for ten years. The World Bank has already so debarred SNC Lavalin after finding it guilty of what one might reasonably describe as “corrupt practices” in Bangladesh.

Clearly, SNC Lavalin has a financial interest in staying away from criminal proceedings. About 24% of its business activities are engineering in the oil and gas sector - including pipeline infrastructure.

Sooner or later, Canada will build a pipeline to take bitumen and Alberta crude to West-Coast refineries. Else, why spend $4.5 billion to acquire the rights to do so from an American company?

Now Export Development Canada (EDC) is investigating the extent to which it “financed” such corrupt practices by accepting a line item for “technical fees” (about 10% of the budget) in SNC Lavalin’s application for EDC financing of its international projects.

It turns out that the “technical fees” may be a synonym for “bribes”. If so, Canadians will have been taxing themselves to support activities inconsistent with our liberal-democratic values. For what? And for whom? Where is the public interest?

We do ourselves a disservice to turn this into a partisan argument or into a personalized discussion of clash of personalities. Both would be roadkill for an SNC Lavalin.

Former PM Stephen Harper involved Canada in a war to dismantle the government and society of Libya for the sake of a few SNC Lavalin investments in that North African country. Canadians “booted” him in 2015. Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems poised to commit a similar error and risk the same fate. Why?

La Caisse de Depot, an investment arm of the Government of Quebec, is a 20% shareholder in SNC Lavalin. At today’s share price, it can realize its longterm goal of 35% ownership at a much-reduced rate than if it had acted a year ago.

Its their business decision. Trudeau’s bungling messengers have been unable to clearly defi ne the “Canadian” interest in all of this. Maybe, Canadians should welcome the positioning of Jody Wilson-Raybauld and Jane Philpott.

Let SNC Lavalin go to trial; then at least we’ll know.

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