[Canadian] Federal mining agency can’t find work – by Greg Weston (CBC.ca – February 20, 2012)


Office spends $1.1M without mediating a case

A federal agency created by the Conservative government to mediate complaints about Canadian mining operations abroad has spent more than $1.1 million in the past two years, but has yet to mediate anything.

At the same time, the agency — the Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor — has racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel, entertainment, training, meetings, reports and other expenses, documents obtained by CBC News show. Renovations to a federal government office to accommodate the agency’s three employees alone cost Canadian taxpayers $189,000.

Its senior official, Marketa Evans, has been flying around the world to conferences, roundtables, workshops and other meetings — in all, 47 trips to Africa, South America, Washington and cities across Canada. She earns up to $170,000 a year.

What the agency hasn’t done is mediate a single complaint against a Canadian mining company, the third federal agency CBC News has uncovered that is spending a lot to achieve little.

As CBC reported recently, the Employment Insurance Financing Board is supposed to invest surplus EI funds — except there aren’t any. And the Public Appointments Commission bureaucracy lives on years after it was scrapped.

Altogether, the three agencies are costing taxpayers millions of dollars a year.

The federal mining watchdog is supposed to be helping to resolve allegations of environmental damage and human rights violations involving the hundreds of Canadian mining companies operating in foreign countries. To date, the agency has fielded only two complaints. One case quickly came to a dead end and the other appears to be in limbo.

In an exclusive interview with CBC News, Evans defended what critics describe as a complaints department in search of complaints.

“We are not going out there to solicit [complaints], if you will, but we do have a responsibility to let people know that we exist,” Evans said. “So we have spent considerable time and energy and effort raising awareness of the office.”

Evans says the agency is “very careful” with taxpayers’ money: “We travel very selectively. We went to Africa; we travelled economy class.”

Waste of money
Critics say the agency is entirely living up to their expectations that it would be largely a waste of money.

Liberal MP John McKay tried unsuccessfully to get the previous Parliament to enact tough laws to crack down on Canadian mining operations abroad. He says the Harper government instead created Evans’s organization and gave it a mandate that was a “recipe for failure.”

Evans has no authority to investigate anything, McKay said, and participation in mediation of complaints is entirely voluntary. If a company accused of wrongdoing decides it doesn’t want anything to do with the process, that’s the end of it.

For the rest of this article, please go to the CBC.ca website: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/02/19/canadian-mining-mediation-agency-spending.html

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