YARRIAMBIACK residents were left in dismay after a report was released outlining allegations that their council was poorly managing ratepayer funded assets.
The report ‘Protecting Integrity: Yarriambiack Shire Council Investigation’ released last week claimed that some staff allegedly misused corporate credit cards, used council-owned equipment for private jobs and sold ratepayer owned equipment and assets including a cherry picker, gravel and chemicals.
Allegations were raised with the Inspectorate in relation to the use and procurement of resources at the Hopetoun depot.
This included private works, inappropriate use of council equipment, unauthorised sale of plant equipment and consumables and leasing of staff vehicles by council.
Yarriambiack Shire Council Chief Executive Officer Jessie Holmes said the investigation into the shire is over and they will now be adopting over 50 recommendations from the Local Government Inspectorate.
Ms Holmes said she understands the public’s frustrations, but wants to reassure the community they are taking these matters seriously.
“I get that people are thinking we’re trying to downplay this, we’re not,” Ms Holmes said.
“We know how much work needs to be done. We know the organisation is changing and we need redirection. We’re not trying to trivialise that, our staff that live here and work here, they’re not bad people.”
She admitted the lack of oversight and their outdated record keeping was the cause of the poor management.
“There was absolutely an environment that was potentially conducive to fraud,” she said.
“At the end of the day, this demonstrates we didn’t stay up to date. For example the credit card issue wouldn’t happen if we had an online system that wouldn’t let you approve it without two signatures.”
Ms Holmes said the Local Government Inspectorate cannot take their investigations further due to the lack of evidence.
“When we’re saying we’re not going to take it any further, it is because these guys (Inspectorate) have the same powers as the police and they’ve done the research and they can’t substantiate it.
“It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but the threshold of it being substantiated hasn’t been met.”
Hopetoun sheep and crop Farmer Alan Malcolm, who has been farming in the shire his whole life, said the allegations have raised concerns for him about how the shire is managing rate payers money.
“I’m not happy about the fact our rates have been wasted, they’re hard enough to pay as is and farmers pay by far, the biggest percentage of rates and for them to be abused like that, I’m certainly not happy about that. There should be some sort of public repercussions,” Mr Malcolm said.
“The biggest concern is, that this was allowed to go on for so long, without any accountability. A public organisation with the amount of money involved and scrutiny that should come under council - how they could let this thing go on for so long without any sort of accountability?
“I’m a bit surprised that the shire wasn’t aware that these things were happening, if the employees all knew about it, surely the guys in charge knew what was going on. It’s a complete lack of accountability and the fact that no one is going to get a wrap over the knuckles to me is pretty weak.”
Wilkur Farmer Calvin Muller told The Herald he has lost a lot of faith in the local governance system after reading the report.
“I find it totally inappropriate what the council has been doing with ratepayers money after reading this report,” Mr Muller said
He said it’s particularly worrying in a time where country roads are in dire need of repair.
“It’s discouraging to read this damning report into protecting integrity of the Yarriambiack Shire conducted by the local government inspectorate; with public monies being mismanaged and in the case of the shire roads, we have a serious problem with the roads system over the whole shire," he said.
“Farmers are the major investors of rates in the shire and we receive very little road maintenance completed.”
Local Government Inspectorate Chief Municipal Inspector David Wolf said although the investigation is over, they will be monitoring the shire’s governance over the coming months.
“While there were many poor practices identified at the council during the investigation, no current or former staff are being pursued in the courts at this time by the Inspectorate,” Mr Wolf said.
“Any potential consequences for staff members related to the report findings are a matter for the council.
“This investigation has taken many months and has been publicly known. Details of the allegations, issues and findings are contained in the report, which also contains specific context around the actions council has taken and will take over the coming months. The Inspectorate will monitor the implementation of our recommendations.”
Read The Herald's interview with Mayor Graeme Massey:
Herald readers can find the full Inspectorate report at: