20 June 2022

CIT contracts affair has lessons for other government entities

| Ian Bushnell
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CIT CEO Leanne Cover

Under pressure: CIT CEO Leanne Cover’s handling of the contracts will be reviewed. Photo: File.

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.

READ ALSO Skills Minister expects CIT to ‘reset’ and focus on teaching after ‘unacceptable’ multi-million-dollar contracts

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.

Skills Minister Chris Steel at CIT

Skills Minister Chris Steel has been forced to take a more hands-on approach with CIT. Photo: CIT.

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.

READ ALSO CIT explains ‘unusual’ million-dollar contracts with ‘complexity thinker’

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.

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Disgusting! They should all stand down immediately, Steel included!

Even a minor indescretion at a lower level would lead to an immediate termination of employment.

Show some leadership, cowards all of you!

HiddenDragon7:44 pm 20 Jun 22

If the mutual protection racket (which typically sees elected and un-elected officials closing ranks to keep the tax-paying public in the dark – after issuing the standard vacuous statement about “working together” to fix the stuff-up in question) can be broken open in this case, and a few people find themselves without a seat on the ACT government gravy train as a result, this episode might serve a salutary purpose – even if only for a time.

$8.5M, equivalent to the annual rates of about 3,500 hardworking Canberrans paid to this consultant, with no deliverables, no explanation from CIT management, totally outrageous.

I heard on the news this morning that one third of the $5M contract was paid to the consultant in April, one month after the contract was signed. Can this really be correct, what was delivered that was worth nearly $1.7M in that month?

Yes, I believe the Canberra times fact checked that. It’s outrageous!

How weak you have proven yourself to be Chris Steel! It is now the tail wagging the dog! Show a bit of spine and sack the board, make change and move on

Capital Retro9:19 am 20 Jun 22

The Six Stages Of Any Project

1. Enthusiasm

2. Disillusionment

3. Panic

4. Hunt for the guilty

5. Punishment of the Innocent

6. Reward for those who had nothing to do with it.

Seems a bit of revision happening here, the buck passing is well underwater.

If Steele (and Barr et al) had “concerns” around the contracts last year, what exact actions did he take and how were those “concerns” alleviated to a satisfactory amount? What additional controls were put in place?

And was it really the media that brought this to light? Seemed to initially be identified only because of the opposition bringing it up and banging on about it.

Also, I have to disagree that complex and technical language in these types of contracts are always a bad thing. Sometimes it is perfectly reasonable to discuss terms and higher level concepts in language that is beyond the average person.

What isn’t OK is having contracts that have such ill defined inclusions, exclusions, deliverables and performance assessments.

If you can’t put in place measures to assess the value of the services being provided, it leaves serious questions around governance and is open to abuse.

Given what has come to light on the potential questionable activity of public official(s), isn’t this something in which the ACT Integrity Commission should be showing an interest.

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