22 August 2022

CIT CEO on paid leave as Integrity Commission investigation into expensive, unusual contracts continues

| Lottie Twyford
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Chris Steel

Minister for Skills Chris Steel has largely refused to comment on the contracts issued by CIT to one consultant, saying it would be inappropriate. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The CEO of the Canberra Institute of Technology will remain on leave from her $318,000-a-year job for “the duration of the inquiries and investigations” into millions of dollars in jargon-filled contracts awarded to a single contractor.

Leanne Cover was at the helm of the institute as $8.5 million was paid to companies owned by “skills and complexity thinker” Patrick Hollingworth over a five-year period.

Ms Cover was directed to stand down by the board in June.

Board chair Kate Lundy said this morning that Ms Cover, who is currently on paid leave until the end of this month, was having that arrangement reviewed on a monthly basis in the interests of procedural fairness.

Ms Cover’s annual salary is $318,000.

Leanne Cover

CIT CEO Leanne Cover was directed to take leave by CIT’s board in June. Photo: Region Media.

Christine Roberston has been Acting CEO since late July after the Integrity Commission took the unprecedented step of announcing it would investigate the series of contracts.

Ms Roberston can have her role as acting CEO extended for up to six months, Ms Lundy confirmed in budget estimates this morning.

It is unclear how long the Integrity Commission investigation could take.

Elizabeth Lee

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee holds redacted paperwork relating to the CIT contracts saga. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee put multiple questions to the Skills Minister Chris Steel and Ms Lundy on the subject of the contracts in budget estimates hearings this morning.

An at-times exasperated Mr Steel largely refused to make specific comments on the contracts, arguing he is unable to comment on the matter while an Integrity Commission investigation remains ongoing.

He told Ms Lee it would be “inappropriate” for him to comment.

“I’m happy to talk about … broader matters that don’t go to the substance of [what] is under investigation by the Integrity Commission,” he said.

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Mr Steel issued a Ministerial Direction to the CIT board last Thursday (18 August) that proposed a number of changes to financial management at the institute.

Under the direction, CIT would have to inform the board of procurements for goods and services over $1 million and consultancy procurements over $500,000.

CIT was also told it must consider any advice provided by the Government Procurement Board in relation to procurement proposals and must report to the board if any departures from government advice were taken.

It was previously revealed the government’s procurement board had raised red flags, but the board had not been involved with the process.

Mr Steel said in estimates his direction referred broadly to “CIT’s ongoing work to improve governance and financial accountability”.

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Earlier this year, then-chair of the CIT board Craig Sloan was unable to confirm whether the contracts with Mr Hollingworth’s companies represented value for money.

Mr Steel had issued a “please explain” to the board but was ultimately left dissatisfied by its response and directed CIT to reset and refocus on teaching.

Board chair Ms Lundy said this morning the minister had received a response to his request for immediate action at CIT.

Those actions included creating a governance nominations committee, appointing board members to the audit and risk committee, and limited financial delegations of executive members at CIT.

Ms Lundy was appointed to the position of board chair last month after Mr Sloan’s tenure ended. She was previously the deputy chair for two years.

Ms Lee questioned these arrangements but wouldn’t go as far as to say if she believed Ms Lundy should be removed from the role.

“There are some very serious questions about the current chair’s role when she was deputy chair … which need to be answered,” she said.

“The whole board needs to have been refreshed genuinely as opposed to just moving some seats around.”

Ms Lee described Mr Steel’s refusal to respond to questions as “unacceptable”.

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Finagen_Freeman7:54 am 23 Aug 22

Haha. Nothing will come of this. We have experience of land agencies getting split in two after dubious goings-on. We have the health directorate getting split in two after dubious executives at the helm.

Another split?

HiddenDragon7:40 pm 22 Aug 22

“It is unclear how long the Integrity Commission investigation could take.”

The report about this imbroglio on the local ABC TV news tonight mentioned that the Integrity Commission has (apparently, and amazingly) issued one report in three years – so as the Commission’s motto might more accurately put it – “Let Right Be Done – Eventually and in the Fullness of Time”

In the meantime, a touch of Zoolander Blue Steel (as illustrated above) should sort things out and serve as a warning…….

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