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Moira rejects audit call

Moira Shire Council chief executive says he is bound by statutory obligations in not acting on a council resolution for an independent probity audit.

ROB HENSON June 25, 2014 3:45am

Protest: Paula Walin-Bates, Adrian Pawar and Leanne Pell are among more than 1000 people supporting a petition demanding an independent probity audit of Moira Shire Council.


 

Angry residents have pledged to keep fighting for an independent probity audit into Moira Shire Council after a hotly debated budget meeting.

In about four days, 1095 people signed a petition which calls for an all-encompassing investigation into the integrity of council finances and processes.

The petition was brought to Monday night’s Moira Shire Council meeting in Numurkah, which was called to adopt the proposed 2014-15 budget.

Scores of concerned ratepayers and residents attended.

Moira chief executive Mark Henderson told the meeting the resolution passed at February’s council meeting, to complete an independent probity audit, was in conflict with his current statutory obligations relating to an investigation by ‘‘an independent third party’’ into council.

After months of bullying and mismanagement claims, the Local Government Inspectorate is currently investigating how a confidential internal audit report on Moira’s procurement and contracting was leaked to the media.

The leaked report detailed how a potential 42 breaches of finance regulations had aggregated from July 2011 to December 2013.

‘‘When a chief executive is faced with a resolution that is in conflict with a chief executive’s statutory obligation, the obligations under an Act of Parliament take precedence,’’ Mr Henderson said.

‘‘I had an obligation to properly inform the independent organisation, and while those investigations are in train I’m unable to enact the council resolution.

‘‘I don’t need a second team ... of accountants stepping over the evidence and information that an independent party might want to look at.

‘‘We do have a very confident current financial team in place. And we have a confident internal audit committee and a well structured audit program, and the auditor general preparing for our annual audit.’’

Leading critic of the budget Adrian Pawar claimed the chief executive’s statement to be under statutory obligations was wrong.

‘‘Where he says he’s got statutory obligations — nowhere in the (Local Government) Act does it say that,’’ Mr Pawar said.

He said the group would collect signatures until Monday, then physically hand the petition to the chief executive in Cobram.

‘‘Then he has to do the (independent probity) audit, because the community demands it.’’

Mr Pawar was Moira’s former chief financial officer and turned whistleblower last year, alleging bullying and financial mismanagement.

In public question time at Monday’s meeting, Nathalia’s Leanne Pell asked council: ‘‘Do you take seriously that residents and ratepayers are not happy — 1095 signatures in three to four days proves that, I think.’’

Mayor Peter Mansfield said he believed councillors and staff were ‘‘very concerned with the way we’re travelling’’.

‘‘And we will be taking the decisions for this council and community very seriously indeed, and we don’t take it lightly, especially when it means raising rates, which we think will bring the best outcome for the community,’’ Cr Mansfield said.

More on pages 2 and 3.

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