The board of the Canberra Institute of Technology ultimately cannot confirm if an almost $5 million contract awarded to a ‘systems and complexity’ thinker represented value for money.
Instead, the board has attempted to distance itself from the matter, saying it was not involved with the procurement process at all.
That responsibility lay with the executive, board chair Craig Sloan wrote to Minister for Skills Chris Steel.
CIT was issued a ‘please explain’ last week after questions were raised about millions of dollars of incomprehensible contracts awarded to companies owned by consultant Patrick Hollingworth, including a company called Think Garden.
Neither the Minister nor the institute could provide jargon-free responses about what the money had been used for.
It later emerged Mr Steel, as well as Chief Minister Andrew Barr, had been aware of concerns about previous contracts between CIT and Mr Hollingworth.
But the institute’s six-page response, provided yesterday, failed to satisfy the government.
The ACT Government is now seeking advice on what its next steps should be.
“[This] raises further questions and concerns in relation to CIT’s processes and governance,” the statement read.
Mr Sloan confirmed that an independent audit of the Think Garden contract would now occur. In the meantime, the contract would be put on hold.
That audit will review the contract and determine whether it constituted value for money and whether it complied with legislative requirements.
It will also investigate whether there were any potential conflicts contained in the drafting of the tender documents and review what and how much information had been provided to the board.
This commitment was welcomed by the government.
But Mr Sloan said the board had not been involved in the procurement process either.
“In relation to the contract, the procurement process for Think Garden was undertaken by the CIT Executive within the Chief Executive’s financial delegations,” he wrote.
“The CIT Board was not involved in the procurement and was not briefed on the evaluation process or the value of the successful contract.”
Instead, he said that responsibility sat with the institute’s executive.
That executive, Mr Sloan wrote, had assured the board all proper and appropriate procurement processes had been followed.
It confirmed that no staff members from Think Garden, including directors, were involved in the preparation of any tender documents.
But the CIT Executive response – provided as an attachment – said the CEO and Board Chair had met weekly about Institute business, and regularly discussed the ‘Evolving Together’ work – which the contract sat under – providing “an additional layer of oversight”.
“From the Executive’s perspective, the Board maintained strategic oversight of the work of Evolving Together through monitoring the progress of the Strategic Compass,” its statement read.
However, the executive could not provide a breakdown of what had been completed so far as the contract had only been entered into in late March.
It said Think Garden had worked with five CIT staff members on 49 days (out of a possible 52 days). The names and positions of these people were not provided due to privacy obligations.
In its explanation for why the work had been deemed necessary, much of its response reverted to the jargon they had been criticised for last week.
“The successful service provider is providing strategic guidance to design and implement a range of learning, feedback and evaluation mechanisms that assist CIT to adapt and implement transformational reform,” the executive said.
This included “learning opportunities”, “a coordination function” and “processes to ensure staff can practice what they have learned in a disciplined manner”.
It would also “provide regular strategic guidance to relevant staff”.
The executive went on to say CIT was witnessing a decline in student enrolments when there is a significant skill shortage in the economy and needed to be able to adapt and reconfigure.
Previously, trying to “transform CIT” had proved difficult as the “root causes” had not been identified, but it was intended this contract and work would solve that problem.
But no measurable deliverables were provided in the CIT response to the government, something Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee had flagged as of concern last week.
Ms Lee has also slammed the government for failing to release the entirety of CIT’s response to the public.
“While we welcome an independent review into the recent contract – after all, that is what we called for last week – it is not broad enough and needs to take into account all of the contracts awarded and CIT’s practices and processes,” she said.
The ACT Government said it will have more to say on the matter, and its next steps, later in the week.
Last week, Labor and the Greens had urged the Territory’s Auditor-General to look into the contracts.