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"What is there to hide?" - residents

A packed gallery of Moira Shire residents protested, silently and at times loudly, at Monday night’s meeting to demand council enact an independent probity audit.

RACHEAL WILLETT June 24, 2014 4:23pm

The resident group came armed with a petition listing 1095 signatures demanding council institute immediately an independent probity audit of the fiscal and operational management processes at Moira Shire Council.

Leading the charge, former council chief financial officer Adrian Pawar, asked council and Chief Executive Officer Mark Henderson when they would address community concerns about what he believes to be “serious financial mismanagement”.

The petition was initiated at a protest meeting held in Nathalia last week and circulated throughout the shire, including Yarrawonga.

“We have the signatures of 1095 people who demand council conduct the independent probity audit in accordance with council’s resolution of February 17, 2014,” he said.

“We demand that the independent probity audit report to you Mr Mayor and the councillors and not the council officers and we demand that it be reported on to this council each month.

“My question is are you going to listen to 1095 residents of Moira Shire and implement the council resolution for the independent probity audit?”

In response, CEO Mark Henderson said the recent leak of a confidential audit report on contract management and possible breaches of the Local Government Act had impacted the possibility of implementing an independent probity audit.

“Firstly, a council is not capable of implementing its own resolution; that can only be done through the office the chief executive officer,” Mr Henderson said.

“We’re aware, whilst it is technically confidential council business, that there is a report in relation to procurement and contract breeches, part of which was leaked to the press.

“As the chief officer of a public authority I now have an obligation to investigate that matter.

“As part of that process I have an obligation to inform a proper investigating body so that we can establish an independent forensic audit of the matters in relation to procurement and contracts and information in that report.

“Because of my statutory obligation as the chief executive officer to commence that investigation I am unable to enact the council resolution to conduct a probity audit as it would compromise that process.

“This is a conflict in terms of my statutory obligation as chief executive officer and a council resolution. I cannot enact that particular council resolution at this time.”

Members of the public gallery held signs throughout the meeting with the demand “PROBITY AUDITY NOW” on one side and “What is there to hide?” on the other side.

Several members of the gallery spoke in support of the petition and called repeatedly for the independent probity audit to be conducted.

Each time, Mr Henderson repeated his position in terms of his statutory obligation versus the council resolution.

Leanne Pell from Nathalia asked council, “do you take seriously that the residents and ratepayers of Moira Shire are not happy?”

“Every time you open a paper, everywhere you look there is another thing to point to the fact that this council is not travelling well,” Ms Pell said. “Do you take these concerns seriously? Will you accept the petition?”

In response, Mayor Peter Mansfield said “well, good news doesn’t sell newspapers”.

“And the petition hasn’t been presented. You’ve waved it around but it hasn’t been presented.”

Cr Mansfield advised Ms Pell the petition would have to be presented through the correct procedure at a customer service centre.

She replied, “We will do that. We would certainly not like to go against what is supposed to be done.”

When asked if, following the conclusion of the investigation into the report on contract procurement, council would then implement the independent probity audit, Mr Henderson said, “Once that process is complete council can then reconsider its position in relation to the probity audit,” he said.

“In that case council would have to consider defining the scope and appropriate terms for reference for such an audit. As it stands at the moment, from my interpretation of the terms of reference as they are, you could drive a bus through it.”

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