Public misled over audit failure
By Michael Sinclair-Jones
THE SHIRE of Toodyay used ratepayer funds to claim (left) that its new records storage facility in West Toodyay was “recognised as an exemplar of good practice” but failed to admit serious defects revealed elsewhere in a damning State Government audit report.Read more
The claim – published in the shire-funded April Toodyay Community Newsletter and repeated by CEO Stan Scott in the Avon Valley Advocate newspaper – followed last month’s tabling in State Parliament of a report that exposed inadequate record keeping at Toodyay and three other WA councils targeted for audit last year.
Mr Scott responded by saying that “there was a concern across all local governments” and that the shire had “tendered to a new enterprise software system which will help address most of the issues raised”.
State Auditor General Caroline Spencer said all four audited councils fared poorly in “important areas where we expected to see good record-keeping practice”.
She singled out Toodyay for its failure to produce reference checks on file for five employees – including a senior shire officer.
All councils should keep “sufficient evidence to demonstrate that an employee’s identity, professional qualifications and right to work in Australia were checked before employment,” Ms Spencer said.
Good record-keeping practice was most important for transparent and accountable decision-making and legal proceedings.
The shire was given two weeks during an audit inspection last year to produce the missing records but was unable to comply.
“Good records support good decision-making, effective business practice and improve accountability and efficiency – they are the cornerstone of good governance,” Ms Spencer said.
She reported that inadequate records policies at all four audited councils had “often not been reviewed, updated and approved to reflect current management expectations for record keeping”.
“Record-keeping tools that support implementation, such as policies and procedures, training and monitoring were not adequately developed,” she said.
Toodyay “did not meet expectations” or had “not done” what was required in eight of 11 areas audited, and only “partially met expectations” in one other area.
The shire had “met expectations” only in records-management training for new staff and for its records disaster recovery plan.
The report described the shire’s new records security and preservation arrangements at Toodyay Junction as “good”.
However, WA Deputy Auditor General Sandra Labuschagne rejected Mr Scott’s published claim that the facility “was recognised as an exemplar of good practice”.
“We did not use those words anywhere in the report,” she said.
The Auditor General has given Toodyay and the other audited councils – Canning, Mosman Park and Eastern Metropolitan Regional Council – three months to provide an “action plan” to WA Local Government Minister David Templeman on how they will address issues raised in the report and publish those plans on their council websites.
When asked in Public Question Time at last month’s council meeting to explain his “exemplar of good practice” claim, Mr Scott said “They were my words – if it was a gilding of the lily, I’m not sure”.
“Some of our computer systems had gaps which we raised with the Auditor General,” he said.
When asked how the council intended to address policy inadequacies raised by the report, Shire President Brian Rayner said “We are upgrading our computer systems and processes to comply with the report”.
When asked a second time what action the council would take about inadequate shire records policies, President Rayner said “We are upgrading our software”.
President Rayner did not respond to Herald questions about which senior shire officer’s job file lacked reference checks, and who was responsible for the omission.