A report from the provincial auditor indicates the Saskatchewan government ended up purchasing land west of Regina by the Global Transportation Hub (GTH) at a “significantly higher price” than what the land could have been purchased for.
However, Judy Ferguson said there was no indication of fraud or any wrongdoing by those involved with the GTH land sale.
The province had the hub buy a chunk of land from a private developer for the Regina Bypass for much more than what neighbouring parcels were appraised for. The 204-acre deal ended up costing $21 million after each acre went for $103,000. Surrounding land went for between $9,000 and $23,000 per acre. The GTH, a Crown Corporation, then sold that land to the Ministry of Highways for as much as $65,000.
At the request of the premier, Ferguson launched a special investigation into the deal that had come under scrutiny and some controversy due to high final costs.
Economy Minister Bill Boyd’s name was also attached to the deal, with some claiming he may have benefited from the transaction.
Ferguson found no evidence of conflicts of interest.
“I’m not saying the government is exonerated,” Premier Brad Wall told reporters, “I’m saying that we need to take responsibility for the fact that there was not proper coordination between the two agencies of government in the acquisition of land and that as a result we paid too much for the land.”
The auditor found that the way in which the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure buys land leaves taxpayers vulnerable to paying for increased land values.
“Better coordinating which agency should take the lead on acquiring the east parcels may have resulted in an earlier purchase, potentially at a lower cost,” Ferguson said in her report.
Because it was still a relatively new organization at the time, Ferguson said the GTH didn’t yet have the formal policies or processes in place for buying land, adding no business cases were prepared and there was a lack of documentation.
As GTH land is sold in the future, the premier said he’s comfortable they’ll recoup some of the money.
The NDP’s interim leader Trent Wotherspoon isn’t so sure of that.
“What we seem to have confirmed here today is that there’s been millions of dollars wasted. That’s totally unacceptable. We see processes that are weak and suspect.”
The auditor is making a total of 10 recommendations; two for the GTH and eight towards the ministry to improve their land acquisitions. Wall said his government accepts these.