senior management does not possess the necessary confidence to engage the
public in its high risk megaproject. That
organization would be proud to display its talents and demonstrate
exactly why it has no need to engage private enterprise to share, at least,
some of the financial risk of Muskrat Falls.
It would give confirmation to its self-assessed capability, as “world
At least, that is how the Premier frequently
skilled Nalcor leadership would insist that the public is awash with sound, up
to date information; it would welcome the views of critics and go out of its
way to allay their concerns.
information, but it is the innocuous stuff.
An ardent policy of disclosure would include an open tendering system,
permitting the public to see current contract awards, relative to pre-determined budgets. It would release details of major management and design contracts such as the
one to SNC Lavalin, it would discuss the challenges of cost overruns as well as
technical problems, such as the North Spur.
deference, Nalcor treats the public like dolts.
It hides behind the outer limits of secrecy afforded it by the
There is a
reason for this secrecy and it has little to do with “commercial sensitivity”,
as CEO Ed Martin suggested at the Nalcor AGM.
Corporation actually possess the construction ‘experts’, about whom the Premier boasts?
thing for Nalcor to depend on SNC Lavalin for its expertise, but as private
capital demands, the “owner” of the Project (in this case “Nalcor”) must still
possess its own key personnel just to ensure its interest (which is
the public interest) is protected. That
required skill-set should not just be related to small projects in the tens of
millions. That scale does not even represent a training
ground for megaprojects. Such projects need
people whose large-scale project management experience has been progressively scaled up, who have already managed multi-billion dollar projects, and for whom a project, in the range of $7-10 billion is not a massive stretch, but is consistent with past management challenges.
However much wishful thinking one may wish to apply, to people out of their league, Muskrat Falls is no place for training wheels.
looks to SNC Lavalin, Hydro Quebec no longer looks to that Company, though
Hydro Quebec has long held construction expertise to assess whether SNC’s
people are up to snuff.
Remember, it is Nalcor, not SNC Lavalin that is responsible for bringing
this Project in, on time and on budget. SNC has no such vested interest.
expertise should the head guy at Nalcor possess, the one managing the $7.6
billion Muskrat Falls Project, the person reporting to the Nalcor Board? For some perspective on this issue, let’s look at two other local mega projects,
Hebron and Vale.
Project Manager on Hebron (who represented the “Owners”) was Mr. Hareesh Pillai.
He is a person with Vice-Presidential level experience at Exxon Mobil. Exxon Mobil is the largest Company in the
world, by revenue. He has a string of
academic credits and 32 years of international management experience including
as Exxon’s Resources Manager of Global Operations; he came to Hebron fresh from a multi-billion dollar project in the tar sands of Alberta.
Mr. Pillai was followed, on the Hebron Project, by Mr. Geoff Parker, who is a Vice-President of ExxonMobil Canada and the current Project Manager.
Until recently, Mr. Rinaldo Stefan, was a long time employee of Vale. He was Project Manager of the Vale Inco Long Harbour Project. This guy has quite a CV, too. He led the implementation of a Nickel Plant
(Dalian, China), the Matsuzaka Plant Expansion (Japan) and the engineering work
for the ECM (Emissions Control Material) Plant in Korea. He was Project Manager of the Cobalt
Processing Plant in Thompson.
interests in the $7.6 billion Muskrat Falls Project? Nalcor’s Vice-President for the Lower Churchill is Mr. Gilbert Bennett.
A review of his CV informs us that he had a long career in telecom,
including at Cable Atlantic and Newfoundland Telephone/Aliant. He is reputedly a
bright person and well-intentioned. He
knows cabling, including fibreOp. He has no mega project experience of any kind.
Nalcor’s Mr. Bennett is a cable
guy. As one professional
remarked: would you be happy if the surgeon giving you a heart transplant is the
one who normally removes corns?
Ed Martin can’t help Mr. Bennett. The highest position
he attained was Business Manager at Petro Canada, a middle management position, not a VP. He answered to a Vice President. His experience is in oil and gas,
as is the experience of most of the senior people at Nalcor.
Can our man, on Muskrat Falls, rate the personnel SNC is sending
down? Can he distinguish between a capable Project Manager and one who may
be failing or whose focus is elsewhere?
Is there a page from his or Ed Martin’s CV that I may have missed? If so, would
they mind sending it along?
Stefan, with his lengthy experience at Vale, working on large projects, could
not manage the Project, in Long Harbour, without incurring substantial cost
overruns. Even now, that Project, under a new Manager, languishes as it suffers a plethora of labour and other issues. The final price tag of the Long Harbour smelter will not amuse Vale shareholders.
It’s as if Nalcor is saying: we’ll try people with no megaproject
experience…let’s see if that works!
Hydro Project undertaken In Newfoundland was “Cat Arm” in the 1970s; moreover, it is small potatoes alongside Muskrat Falls.
Then there’s the Board of Directors at Nalcor, who have been shielded from the public debate on this Project. If you are not impressed by Mr. Martin and Mr. Bennett, you had better check your expectations on the choice of Board Members. Check the link; make your own assessment.
I might remind readers that the Board of any company, individually and collectively, assumes enormous responsibility for the activities of the Company. Whether they realize it or not, they are the ones who must answer, whether the Corporation is ready to undertake a Project of such dimension. The Board is ultimately responsible for its missteps and for the final outcome. As to its current construction, the Board, at Nalcor is seriously deficient.
When billions of dollars of money is at risk, such a Board should be constituted of nationally and internationally recognized and experienced men and women in finance, engineering, construction and law. Their CV’s ought to contain impeccable credentials and professional reputations. They ought to be capable of winning instant respect in financial and engineering houses.
Not just Government Ministers and senior officials, but business, professional groups, as well as the general public, ought to be confident of their knowledge and expertise as respected advisors, engaged in a risky and difficult undertaking.
Nalcor’s Board of Directors does not measure up.
If private money were being used to construct Muskrat Falls and that Board, coupled with the two senior people at Nalcor, were the best talent the Company could muster to pull it off, investors would riot. There would be war!
Likely, because a different standard is applied to expenditures of public money, by all these people and the Government, too, there is an expectation no one will notice; no one will have to account.
Don’t be too sure about that.
Muskrat Falls: A Reach Too Far? Indeed.
But, whatever your capacity for hope, Nalcor is no place for training wheels.