Clerical errors and an overall lack of oversight is what caused the College of the North Atlantic to overbill the government of Qatar by $5.5 million, Newfoundland and Labrador's education minister says.
In April, Education Minister Darrin King admitted that a series of mistakes — including overpayments made to employees at a CNA college campus in Qatar — total more than $5 million. The workers were being paid for contracts that were above the salary limits spelled out in the agreement between the college and the government of Qatar. More than 100 employees with contracts ending in 2010 and 2011 were involved in the overpayment.
King ordered an investigation immediately after the botched billing was discovered. The audit was conducted by the Department of Finance's internal audit division, with independent oversight provided by accountant Gerry Shortall.
At a press conference in St. John's on Tuesday about the audit, King said mistakes were made every step of the way.
"The missteps in this whole process are just unreal. As has been outlined by all of us. There was a lack of attention to detail," said King.
The auditor's report concluded that none of the mistakes were deliberate. Rather, they stemmed from "clerical errors" and "an apparent lack of knowledge" of how the contract between the college and the Qatar government worked.
"There was a lack of attention to detail, there was a failure to have proper protocol in place to ensure things get done. Decisions were made by employees that in some cases were never vetted through the appropriate channels. In some respects too many things happened that ought not to have happened," said King, adding that some of the people who made those decisions are no longer with the company.
As a result of the billing fiasco, former college president Jean Madill resigned, citing government interference in the college's operations. Bruce Hollett, interim president for CNA, said the college was supposed to do an annual compliance audit of all payments connected to Qatar, but those audits were never done. Hollett said he still can't explain why.
"The question has been asked internally why were they not done and there is no acceptable answer except to say at this stage that all of those audits are going to be done from now on," Hollett said.
King said the province is still on the hook for the overpayments.
'We've entered discussions on a repayment plan. The state of Qatar has retained $5.5 million from a payment that was forthcoming to the province recently," he said. "Until we get to the point where we negotiate how we repay … we propose a number of methods through the college as to how we'd like to repay it. Those discussions are ongoing now."