10 August 2023

Integrity Commission to hold public hearings into alleged 'inappropriate conduct' by ACT Education officials

| Claire Fenwicke
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Construction work to Campbell Primary School

Almost $19 million had been budgeted for works under the Campbell Primary School Modernisation Project. Photo: David Murtagh.

The ACT’s Integrity Commissioner has announced it will hold public hearings for the first time for the investigation into alleged corrupt conduct during the Campbell Primary School Modernisation Project.

Operation Kingfisher was established by the commission to investigate whether public officials within the ACT Education Directorate “failed to exercise their official functions honestly and/or impartially” when making recommendations and decisions regarding the project between 2019 and 2020.

Integrity Commissioner Michael F Adams KC said the decision for the inaugural public examination hadn’t been taken lightly.

“The decision to hold an examination in public requires the careful consideration of several factors before I can determine it is in the public interest to do so,” he said.

“Following consideration of those factors, and the submissions provided by the proposed witnesses, I have determined that holding these examinations is in the public interest and that the public examination can be held without unreasonably infringing a person’s human rights.”

Mr Adams outlined the investigation related to concerns that the procurement system in the Territory had been undermined by “inappropriate conduct” at senior levels.

READ ALSO Timid procurement board failed to press CIT on questionable tenders

The investigation is into the procurement of construction services for the refurbishment of Campbell Primary School.

The Integrity Commission’s 2021-22 annual report noted this investigation, as well as the probe into the procurement of services at the Canberra Institute of Technology, were both subject to “public controversy”.

“We have since conducted a number of examinations and obtained large quantities of documents for analysis,” it stated.

“The number of witnesses and volume of documentation are much greater than is involved in the Commission’s other current investigations.”

Mr Adams reminded the public that being called as a witness to provide evidence was not indicative that an adverse finding would be made against them.

READ ALSO Procurement revelations pose multi-million-dollar questions for ACT Government

In the 2018-19 ACT Budget, $18.8 million had been announced for the Campbell Primary School Modernisation Project.

An auditor-general report later found that the procurement process “lacked probity” and that tenderers were not dealt with “fairly, impartially or consistently”.

Despite construction company Manteena being identified as the preferred tenderer, the contract ended up going to Lendlease.

“In making the recommendation [to hire Lendlease] to the Director-General the Delegate effectively re-weighted and re-prioritised the evaluation criteria,” the report stated.

“Decision-making was not based on the evaluation criteria with which the Territory approached the market and sought tenders. Probity was not demonstrated in the procurement process to ‘deal fairly, impartially and consistently with suppliers’.”

“The procurement process was also characterised by informal, uncontrolled and poorly documented communication with tenderers and other parties.”

The Integrity Commission’s public hearings for Operation Kingfisher will be held on Thursday (10 August) and Friday (11 August), with further hearings expected in September.

Hearings will be live-streamed.

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