Hogwash won’t wash as council inquiry wraps up

“SERIOUS consequences” are in store for witnesses who forged documents, gave dishonest testimony or withheld information from the inquiry into the City of Perth. 

After 40 days of evidence, 23 witnesses and 4000 pages of transcripts, inquiry lawyer Philip Urquhart wrapped up the public hearings last week warning those who’d tried to frustrate the inquiry they might be referred to “regulatory bodies and law enforcement agencies”.

Manipulated

Mr Urquhart said the inquiry had heard evidence of “manipulated” elections with sham leases and fake companies, conflicts of interest, phoney expense claims, and staff turning a blind eye to dubious tender processes.

He said commissioner Tony Power will now write the inquiry’s final report, which will be handed to the local government minister; those facing adverse findings will get a chance to respond.

The inquiry been repeatedly criticised over the 40 days of public hearings for spending millions to uncover name-calling and mean text messages.

And it has been expensive.

• Inquiry lawyer Philip Urquhart warned anyone who tried to frustrate its progress that they could be hearing from law enforcement agencies.

The state government has already stumped up $3.5 million for the inquiry itself, while Perth ratepayers have forked out $1.6m to pay for commissioners where it would have cost them $430,000 for their lord mayor and councillors over the same period.

But even from a hard-nosed accountant’s perspective, the changes springing from the inquiry stack up pretty quickly to make it a cost-saver.

According to the accountant appointed by the inquiry to look at the council’s books, if staff wages had kept pace with similar organisations the city would save $11m each year.

New CEO Murray Jorgensen has already cut half of the city’s managers, who were paid between $120,000 to $160,000, while a director’s position ($300,000+) has also disappeared, trimming the annual staff budget by a tidy $2.5m a year.

The inquiry also heard that contract expenses were manipulated so favoured companies would get the work, even though they were more expensive. That means, for example, that every pump repair and sprinkler replacement the city undertakes is more expensive than necessary, with Mr Urquhart saying that wasn’t a standalone example.

While Mr Jorgensen’s six-part crackdown on tendering processes includes hiring a senior procurement specialist and conducting fraud, corruption and misconduct training, the potential savings could still be substantial.

Scrapped

Clothing allowances, which were reluctantly reduced by councillors from $13,000 each a year to just $3000, have been completely scrapped by the commissioners.

The dining room has also been scrapped, with the inquiry hearing some councillors brought in friends and family to dine at the luxurious Friday meals, which were meant to be reserved for official city business, saving $500,000 a year.

stories by DAVID BELL

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