Commissioner sets deadline
Lawyers in the starting blocks

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 13/98) - The MLA who filed a conflict of interest complaint against the premier has until April 29 to supply details of her allegation to the conflict of interest commissioner.

pixThough the commissioner, Iqaluit lawyer Anne Crawford, would not respond directly to News/North, her assistant, Marcus Weber, said the deadline was set following an April 24 meeting of lawyers representing both the Hay River MLA Jane Groenwegen (left) and Premier Don Morin.

"Following (Groenewegen's response), Mr. Morin will have at least three weeks to reply," said Weber. "Then there will be either oral or written arguments."

After the arguments, the commissioner will determine if the complaint merits further investigation.

Though the substance of the complaint has yet to be made public, the Crawford has provided a few clues as to the specific nature of the complaint in two recent decisions.

"The complaint involves a home, an office tower and multiple government contracts involving a number of departments and agencies," wrote Crawford.

The premier lives in a house built by Nova Construction. The company did $882,922 in business with the territorial government in the 1995-96 fiscal year.

In 1996 Nova also constructed an office complex in Morin's riding. The complex is owned by the Deninu K'ue Development Corp., the Fort Resolution band's corporate arm.

Deninu K'ue received a $953,337 loan from the Business Development Corporation and a $200,000 grant from the Business Development Fund to fund the project. Both the BDC and BDF are agencies of the territorial government.

The "office tower" Crawford refers to is unquestionably Lahm Ridge Tower, the focus of a firestorm of controversy during the last session of the assembly.

Nova Construction owner Mike Mrdjenovich and former cabinet secretary Roland Bailey bought the Yellowknife office tower at the same time the government approved a 10-year lease extension for office space in it.

Process and penalties

While little is being said about the complaint at this time, if the commissioner decides it warrants an inquiry, legislation indicates the process should become more public.

The act states, "Any hearing in an inquiry shall be conducted in public unless the conflict of interest commissioner considers that it is necessary in the public interest to conduct the hearing in camera."

Members found guilty of a conflict of interest are subject to a variety of penalties, ranging from a reprimand to a fine of up to $10,000.

The commissioner also has the authority to order a member found guilty of a conflict of interest to make restitution to the government, any of its agencies or corporations or any person for any gain realized as a result of the conflict.

No limit is set on the amount of restitution the commissioner can order.

The commissioner can even suspend a member for up to 30 days or declare his or her seat vacant.

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