An undertaking by the Auditor-General today to use his ‘coercive powers’ if necessary to uncover all costs associated with ‘Cartridgegate’ has been welcomed by Shadow Finance Minister Rob Lucas.
Auditor-General Simon O’Neill told the Legislative Council Budget and Finance Committee he was aware of a number of criticisms about the Government’s investigation into ‘Cartridgegate’, including:
• in some cases Departments have only questioned staff where the gift or benefit is listed on the invoice, ignoring the fact that in many cases the gift/benefit was provided to the public servant at their home address
• Departments have not been able to interview public servants who have already resigned and left the public service
• many Departments have not considered invoices prior to July 2009, even though there is evidence some offences occurred as early as 2007
Mr O’Neill said he would review the Government’s process and if he wasn’t satisfied with it, he wouldn’t hesitate to use his ‘coercive powers’ if that was required:
“If I think there have been deficiencies in the inquiry review process—that is, adequate coverage has not been given to identified instances of malpractice, improper practice, acceptance of gifts—and that there has not been adequate inquiry, both not only in terms of review of documentation but in terms of access or review or examination of an individual or individuals, then I will consider that matter and, if need be, if I need to exercise my coercive powers under the Public Finance and Audit Act, I will do so.”
Mr Lucas said the Government’s investigation had been “manifestly inadequate”.
“The current process, overseen by the Minister for Finance, the Procurement Working Party and basically each agency being told, ‘you go off and find what rorts are occurring within your agency is manifestly inadequate.
“The Auditor-General has the power to conduct a proper, independent inquiry where he could speak to public servants under oath and require them to answer questions, produce documents and so on.
“Only a proper inquiry by the Auditor-General will get to the bottom of this scandal and allow taxpayers to be comfortable that all the rorting that has occurred will have been identified and that those who should be penalised are.”