WA councils in corruption claim
Western Australian councils have been identified as being at high risk of fraud.
WA Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) head John McKechnie QC has reflected on last year’s sacking Exmouth Council CEO Bill Price for housing fraud, misuse of credit cards and awarding contracts without going to tender.
The inquiry declared Mr Price “a law unto himself”, calling for prosecution.
Mr McKechnie said the dodgy practices like those at the Exmouth Shire Council are probably being repeated elsewhere.
“We've had about 700 allegations in the past year or two about local government,” he told reporters this week.
“Now an allegation doesn't mean there is anything there, but about 54 per cent were assessed as possibly serious misconduct, that is fraud or corruption. A lot of them turn out to be baseless, but there is an undercurrent I think.
“It tells me that at least this council, but perhaps many others, are simply not equipped to govern regional governments with millions of dollars in ratepayers' money.”
Mr McKechnie said governance failures appeared to lead some long-standing councillors to forget they were dealing with ratepayers' money.
“It's not earned money,” he said.
“It hasn't come from endeavour, it's ratepayers' money and we'd like to think it is spent on things that are worth spending on and it's managed prudently.”
“Whether [corruption is] rife or not we will find out, but we have a number of investigations ongoing into local authorities,” he told Radio 6PR.
“We are not saying every council is corrupt but when you have got lax governments, when you have policies that are not enforced, when you have people handing out money on contracts, the risks are obvious and they need to be managed.
“The Department of Local Government has something like 16 councils in their high-risk category and 18 councils on their medium high-risk category.
“All 16 in high-risk are regional councils and I think 16 out of 18 in the medium risk are regional authorities.
“So it's not just CCC that sees it as an issue.”
Mr McKechnie also questioned the experience and qualifications of many people who are voted onto local councils.
Premier Mark McGowan says he will give the Auditor General more power over local government dealings.
“I understand that the vast majority of council laws, mayors and the like do a good job, it's often a time-consuming position, they do it for the right motives,” Mr McGowan said this week.
“There's obviously a small group that are doing the wrong thing so this reform will assist with all councils.
“We're going to give the Auditor General oversight of local government across Western Australia.
“This will ensure that there's less examples of misuse of public money, less examples of misuse of ratepayers money.
“It will make local government more acceptable and transparent.
“That will mean a layer of accountability that doesn't currently exist will be introduced so the Auditor General can have the oversight capacity as he does over government over the entirety of local government in Western Australia.
“This is long overdue reform.”
West Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) president Lynne Craigie does not believe corrupt behaviour is widespread.