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Canada bungled COVID app for travelers, official inquiry finds

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – The Canadian government bungled a COVID-era app for travelers at every stage, failed to keep records and poorly utilized funds, the country’s top watchdog said in a highly critical report on Monday.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), working with the health and public services ministries, launched the ArriveCAN application in April 2020 to collect health information from travelers and assist with quarantine measures.

The government “repeatedly failed to follow good management practices in the contracting, development, and implementation of the ArriveCAN application”, Auditor General Karen Hogan said in an official report presented in parliament.

The app was updated 177 times, often with little to no documentation of testing, and at one point some 10,000 travelers were wrongly instructed to quarantine, she said.

“CBSA’s documentation, financial records and controls were so poor that we were unable to determine the precise cost of the ArriveCAN application,” Hogan said, estimating the final price tag to be C$59.5 million ($44.3 million).

“As a result of the many gaps and weaknesses we found in the project’s design, oversight, and accountability, it did not deliver the best value for taxpayer dollars spent.”

The report comes at a time when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ruling Liberals are badly trailing the official opposition Conservative Party ahead of an election that must be held by October next year.

“He took 60 million of your dollars and put it into this arrive scam – think of that,” Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre told reporter.

In response, the CBSA said in a statement that the audit had identified “unacceptable gaps”, adding that it was revamping the way it handled contracts.

Canada lifted all pandemic-era travel restrictions, testing and quarantine rules on Oct. 1, 2022.

The report adds to another audit of the government’s COVID policies that found some C$4.6 billion of relief funds ended up in ineligible hands due to verification lapses.

($1 = 1.3438 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; editing by David Ljunggren and Mark Heinrich)

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