On a weekend in January 2019, the then Minister for Finance, Services and Property Victor Dominello posted on LinkedIn that he hadn’t been able to use his smartwatch to pay for parking at parking meters in the Lane Cove National Park.
Within two days a location had been selected for a remote payment trial, and six weeks later Mr Dominello popped up in front of the media, just in time for the NSW election, to announce a trial of the ‘Park’nPay’ app in Sydney’s Rocks precinct.
Auditor General Margaret Crawford said an investigation had found the decision to trial the Park’nPay app in The Rocks was “rushed and expedient” and had come at the expense of proper procurement processes.
“The location for the initial trial was effectively selected within 48–72 hours of the Minister not being able to pay for parking in Lane Cove National Park, and without any consideration of other options or of the implications of that decision,” she says in a report handed down on Wednesday.
“It took the department less than 48 hours to effectively decide that a parking app would be trialled in The Rocks. Other locations were not considered.
“The urgency to progress the Park’nPay app was a result of the Minister wanting to make an announcement prior to caretaker conventions commencing for 2019 NSW State election.”
The $1.2 million contract was awarded to Duncan Solutions, the existing service provider for those parking meters, without going out to tender.
Jan 19-20, 2019 – Minister posts on LinkedIn about not being able to pay for parking with his smart device
Jan 21 – Minister’s Chief of Staff notes the post has generated ‘…a lot of discussion and some interesting suggestions’ and requests further exploration with the Chief Information and Digital officer.
Jan 30 – Duncan Solutions writes to the Minister’s office about the post on LinkedIn
Feb 7 – Meeting held between Duncan Solutions and the minister and a direct negotiaion strategy is entered into for Duncan Solutions to provide technology services to support the app
Feb 27 – Government announces a trial of the app in Sydney’s Rocks precinct
March 1 – Caretaker period commences
July – The department signs a contract with Duncan Solutions for $1,260,600 over three-years.
No evidence on value for money
The reports says there is no evidence that procurement to support Park’nPay represented value for money, and that the department failed to establish the grounds for entering a direct negotiation procurement strategy for the technology.
It says the department rushed the decision to trial the app in The Rocks, without considering how this might affect its procurement requirements, and failed to get proper approval before going into direct negotiations with Duncan Solutions.
“There was no effective management of conflicts of interest,” the report says.
“Key decisions were not documented. There was a lack of clarity, transparency, and oversight of the relationship between the Minister’s office and staff in the department.”
The department also lacked accountability and transparency in its interaction with the Minister and the Minister’s office, “resulting in an improper blurring of the line between executive government and the public service”.
The department deliberately sought to withhold information from the Audit Office, Ms Crawrford adds.
Use of contractor
The report also reveals that the government allowed a contractor to approve the payment of invoices to Duncan Solutions.
On a sample of invoices worth $150,000 examined during the audit, the person approving payment was employed under contract via a labour hire company as a contingent worker, which meant they weren’t authorised to commit or spend public money.
The contract with Duncan Solutions included three additional single-year options to extend the contract. These extensions were exercised by the department (now the Department of Customer Service) in July 2022 and then again in July 2023.
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