Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) costs during its first 14 months from June 2008 through August 2009 total $11.9 million, according to documents obtained by Alberta Farmer through a request under the provincial Freedom of Information and Privacy (FOIP) act.
Of that amount approximately $4.5 million was spent on administration, startup and operating costs, while $7.3 million was grants to other agencies, organizations, government departments, universities, companies and individuals.
A FOIP application was needed because ALMA did not volunteer the information.
The FOIP report indicates that $814,201 was spent on capital expenditures, presumably the cost of setting up ALMA as a separate agency.
ALMA offices were moved out of the agriculture building in Edmonton to an office building in Leduc.
In an interview, new CEO Gordon Cove said ALMA wanted to appear to be a distinct group at arm’s length from government. “We are an agency of government, but we see ourselves being separate from government with our own mandate.”
Directors’ expenses which included fees, per diems, honorariums and travel amounted to $716,254. Privacy rules would not allow for an individual breakdown, but that figure works out to an average of $65,114 per director over the 14-month period.
“We have 11 directors and they come in for meetings every two months and they get per diems. They come from all over the country. You just don’t bring on the quality of people we have without some cost,” Cove said.
According to the report, Alberta Agriculture and ALMA spent $932,683 on consultants and contractors. That was a total figure with no breakdown. In addition $123,041 was spent on advertising and promotion of ALMA and its programs. Administration costs, including rent, office, information technology and equipment came to $125,115 over 14 months.
Salaries, benefits, and staff expenses amounted to $1,019,866 for a staff of 24. Subsequent to the report, the ALMA website indicated staff had increased to 31. “I think we are pretty well where we need to be with (staff) numbers,” Cove said.
The report notes that six staff are secondments from Alberta Agriculture with the remainder the expense of ALMA. Operational costs of ALMA are being primarily sourced from the Alberta Agriculture budget.
Asked whether ALMA was simply duplicating what the agriculture department has done for several years, Cove said ALMA will take a different approach.
“A lot of money has been spent on the industry. But we are looking at another approach we need to do things differently to get a better result. We need to come up with some solutions,” Cove said.
“Its a tough business. We need to partner. We are not the industry, we don’t own anything or sell anything, we have a lot of people who we can help to make an impact. We see projects that will add value to the overall big picture.”
CONFLICT OF INTEREST?
One of the projects ALMA is funding is $108,000 grant to Feedlot Health Management Services, owned by ALMA director Kee Jim. Asked whether this was a conflict of interest, Cove said this was a continuation of Alberta Agriculture funding announced before ALMA was formed.
“We take conflicts of interest seriously. That particular project was approved for funding long before ALMA by one of the funds that we now manage. This board had no bearing on that decision. Our directors are aware of their responsibility they excuse themselves from any discussion where conflict may occur and that’s documented in our policies.”
ALMA has since removed the grant from the list of projects on its website.
Part of the mandate of ALMA is to develop export markets, an area which is also the responsibility of the the new federal Agriculture Marketing Access Secretariat (AMAS).
Asked whether this was duplication, Cove said, “AMAS has its function and we support them… we can open doors as some of our directors are in Ottawa, we have people on the ground in Japan, we can help but also push a bit, but it is tough doing anything on the provincial level.”
In reflecting on the future of ALMA, Cove said, “Sure I know there are high expectations, particularly in the hog sector which is in real trouble but we are determined to take a new approach to deal with industry issues. It is going to take time.”