It is hard to see how the board and CEO of the Canberra Institute of Technology can survive the stench engulfing the organisation.
The contracts debacle involving $8.5 million over four years and one contractor delivering services that no one can explain is as mind-boggling as the indecipherable language served up not just in the tenders, but in CIT documents released through Freedom of Information that cover the organisation’s renewal process.
Questions remain about the amount, including the latest contract, just shy of $5 million. Skills Minister Chris Steel has rightly told the board to review CEO Leanne Cover’s management of the contracts and governance arrangements, saying the CIT’s reputation had been damaged.
Mr Steel has, in effect, put the board and CEO on notice and exerted more Ministerial control over the independent organisation.
Both ignored his concerns last year about whether contracts awarded to Patrick Hollingworth represented value for money by going ahead and awarding another one this year worth $4,999,990, the biggest yet.
Mr Steel kept up the pressure by revealing on Friday that the government procurement board looked at some of the contracts and raised some red flags.
But one wonders if the matter would have seen the light of day had the media not revealed the nature of the contracts.
The Opposition isn’t about to rest on this one, and a lot more will fall out.
The affair also raises questions about procurement oversight across government directorates, agencies and entities. CIT’s predicament should put the frighteners up managers and board members everywhere.
The government, in a budgetary environment in which every dollar counts, should see this as an opportunity to cut waste and review every spend on these kinds of services that don’t actually deliver a tangible product.
CIT staff and the public are rightly questioning the organisation’s priorities when it needs funding to employ teachers and run courses – its core business.
Canberra is awash with consultants of varying quality supping at the government table, offering to guide bodies and individuals through change. The best lead people to better thinking and clarity in straightforward language, not the managerialist jargon and psychobabble so evident in the CIT documents.
Sometimes organisations need to be helped to change their thinking, for staff to find out-of-the-box solutions and create new structures so they can be more efficient or creative.
And Canberra – a small city with not one but two governments, a multitude of organisations and a lot of people who know each other – can be a happy hunting ground for consultants offering such services. All the more reason for greater scrutiny, a strong BS detector and respect for taxpayers’ money.
It would also help if government documents were written in plain English so it was clear what the need is and what the services are expected to deliver.
The CIT examples are among the worst, but too many government documents are opaque to the point that one cannot help but conclude they are designed to hide something. And this is despite, no doubt, the hiring of people to teach public servants how to write in plain English.
For CIT itself, it appears there will be even more change than it counted on, with Mr Steel expecting a shake-up in how the organisation is being run.
And while Mr Steel cannot sack Ms Cover, he expects her management of the contracts to be appropriately reviewed.
“Careful stewardship of an organisation’s financial, human and reputational resources is both a core responsibility and an important performance indicator for any senior executive,” he told the board chair Craig Sloan, whose term expires at the end of this month.
It is a wake-up call that should be heeded across government.