(Bloomberg) -- Canada’s auditor general published a scathing report on a border customs app that was rushed through development during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying the government’s “documentation, financial records and controls were so poor” that the cost couldn’t be precisely determined.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government ordered the development of the ArriveCan app in March 2020 to collect contact and health information from travelers and assist with quarantine measures. It then expanded the project to also process the customs and immigration forms required by people entering Canada.
But the app quickly became a headache for Trudeau’s Liberals, as the opposition Conservatives hammered it over malfunctions and potential privacy issues. It was later revealed that it cost millions more than originally estimated, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is now investigating allegations of misconduct with links to the contract.
The Canada Border Services Agency outsourced the development of ArriveCan due to lack of in-house resources, and the cost exploded to at least C$59.5 million ($44.2 million), said Auditor General Karen Hogan in the report published Monday.
The border agency’s “disregard for policies, controls, and transparency in the contracting process restricted opportunities for competition and undermined value for money,” she said in the report.
Hogan found there was “little documentation” to explain why a company called GC Strategies was awarded the work, and that the company even helped develop some of the requirements for the contract.
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She also found that some border agency workers involved in ArriveCan were invited by vendors to dinners and other activities. The agency’s code of conduct requires employees to tell supervisors about all offers of gifts or hospitality regardless of whether they were accepted, but there’s no evidence the workers informed their bosses, she wrote.
The apparent failure to report these invitations, along with existing relationships between vendors and agency employees, created “a significant risk or perception of a conflict of interest,” Hogan wrote.
The border agency has launched an investigation into allegations surrounding some employees’ conduct and it has referred some matters “relating to certain employees and contractors” to the RCMP, she said in the report. Her office did not pursue further audit work around ethics to avoid duplicating or compromising those ongoing probes.
The report also found problems in the testing and performance of the app. “Between April 2020 and October 2022, the Canada Border Services Agency released 177 versions of ArriveCan with often little to no documentation of testing,” Hogan’s report said. “In one update, in June 2022, around 10,000 travelers were wrongly instructed to quarantine.”
The report concludes with eight recommendations, largely focused on requiring better documentation and financial controls when outsourcing projects. It also said the border agency should “ensure that potential bidders are not involved in developing or preparing any part of a request for proposal and should put in place controls that will prevent this from occurring.”
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