The price of federal government tardiness: $3,000 a day.

Under the Operations and Maintenance Agreement, the federal government was supposed to transfer $50 million to the Cree by April I. But the payment wasn’t made until April 6, during which time the interest that would have accrued, about $15,000, was lost. And the Grand Council of the Cree wants to know if this was an innocent mistake, incompetence, or given the history of this agreement, payback to the Cree for not signing a new agreement.

The O & M agreement was signed at the same time as the Cree/Naskapi Act in 1984, but negotiations did not start on it until 1993. A five-year agreement was signed in 1995. “There was a clause that extended the agreement a year and if for some reason they didn’t get a new deal, the agreement would continue,” explained Brian Craik, spokesperson for the Grand Council of the Cree. “The agreement has never expired, it’s just that there’s a clause in there that guarantees that the agreement will go on, a perpetuity clause I call it, which lasts forever.”

The money covers maintenance of roads, sewers and buildings. In 2002, the federal government’s James Bay Implementation Office (JBIO) gave notice that the agreement had expired. Three months later, however, adjustments were made of $3.55 million, with all parties agreeing to the additional amount. Nonetheless, the adjustment was withheld in both 2003 and 2004.

This year, as the date for the payment approached, the JBIO stood firm behind the belief that the 1995 agreement had expired and therefore the clause was no longer in effect. The office said as much in a series of letters to the Grand Council. “The letters basically had the effect of interpreting the agreement such that the automatic renewal clause would be compromised because it would require them to renew the agreement with us every year,” said Craik.

In a meeting March 30, Grand Chief Ted Moses received assurances from federal Indian Affairs Minister Andrew Mitchell that the money would be coming. Mitchell directed the money to go through on April 1 as usual.

However, by April 2, the payment hadn’t been made. It wasn’t until April 5 that it was discovered that the date on the transfer was marked for the first of the month, but the payment order had been submitted on the second. The computerized transfer system would not let the payment go through with the wrong date, which meant that it was bounced back to the feds and wasn’t made until April 6, five days late. Meanwhile, the additional amount of $3.55 million, plus the additional costs for the 2003-2004 buildings, bringing the adjustment to $4 million, was once again withheld.

The GCC is conducting an investigation. Grand Chief Ted Moses says the confusion is unacceptable. “It’s not in good faith,” said Moses. “The bureaucracy is not supporting the political will of the minister to flow the money when the minister had the authorization to do so.”