By Julian Bajkowski
The local government sector in New South Wales has been rocked by the findings of an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) probe released today that has found 41 people participated in corrupt conduct, with many now council employees and officers now likely to face prosecution.
The corruption watchdog has found that “22 employees or former employees of 14 local councils and another public authority in NSW engaged in corrupt conduct” by accepting gifts and other largesse suppliers to win business as well as creating false invoices to mask payments.
Code-named Operation Jarek, the sting found that council staff accepted “holidays, TV sets, camcorders, DVD players, iPads, iPhones, coats and gift vouchers” as inducements to win or maintain business.
Councils whose employees were named in the ICAC investigation report include: Ballina Shire Council, Bathurst Regional Council, Broken Hill City Council, Burwood Council, Byron Shire Council, Council of the City of Botany Bay, Council of the City of Sydney, Lithgow City Council, Liverpool City Council, Narrandera Shire Council, Orange City Council, Walgett Shire Council, Waverley Council and Yass Valley Council. Employees of the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority were also named as having engaged in corrupt conduct.
On the supplier side, staff of Hilindi Pty Ltd, Momar Australia Pty Ltd, NCH Australia Pty Ltd and Universal Cartridges Pty Ltd were found to have engaged in corrupt conduct.
ICAC has also strongly suggested that as big as its local government sting is, the problem of employees taking gifts and kickbacks could be far more extensive than just the examples it has named and shamed.
“From the outset of the ICAC's investigation, it became apparent that the provision of incentives by businesses to public officials in NSW was widespread,” the Commission said in a public statement.
“Given the sheer scale of the alleged corrupt conduct and the finite resources and time at the ICAC's disposal, the ICAC decided to focus its investigation on the conduct of employees of 15 of the 110 public authorities in NSW whose staff were alleged to have received gifts from suppliers,” ICAC said.
The timing of the releases of the ICAC’s finding is especially awkward NSW councils, most of which have sent representatives to Dubbo this week for the annual conference of Local Government Association of New South Wales.
State Local Government minister Don Page was scheduled to have opened proceeding on Sunday night, with Planning minister Brad Hazzard slated to address delegates on planning reforms on Monday morning.
The O’Farrell government is facing a backlash from many local governments on whether or not it will keep its key election promise to return many land use planning and zoning approval powers to local governments.
A statement issued on Monday 29th of October spruiking reforms, Mr Hazzard said that “councils can finalise a range of Local Environmental Plan amendments, including spot rezonings, heritage proposals and the reclassification of some public land.”
However the new arrangements also contain a controversial mechanism whereby “proponents seeking a rezoning can now request an independent review of decisions through the local Joint Regional Planning Panel if a council has refused or failed to respond to their rezoning request.”
Mr Hazzard’s statement said that a Planning Circular from his department explaining the changes will be issued to councils today.
Comment below to have your say on this story.
If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at email@example.com.
Sign up to the Government News newsletter