The Ombudsman today has published a report of his investigation into the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure pursuant to a referral dated 3 April 2018 under section 24(2)(c) of the Independent Commission against Corruption Act 2012.
The investigation covered expenditure and actions during the period of the former Labor Government. The Minister of DPTI at the time was Stephen Mullighan and the CEO of DPTI was Michael Deegan.
The findings of the Ombudsman are:
- Mr Michael Deegan committed misconduct in public administration by determining an internal review under the Freedom of Information Act 1991 in respect of a request for information concerning his own meals, entertainment and purchase card expenditure.
- The Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure’s practice of funding the purchase of meals, drinks and entertainment by the former Chief Executive amounted to maladministration in public administration.
In addition, the Ombudsman also found that Mr Deegan’s use of public funds to purchase meals, drinks and entertainment and Ms Julienne TePohe’s approval of purchase card transactions by Mr Deegan were both wrong within the meaning of the Ombudsman Act.
The Ombdusman investigated thousands of dollars of expenditure and was damning in his criticism.
For example, he highlighted $1,190.50 spent on a restaurant meal ‘including an astonishing $664 spent on alcohol’.
The Ombudsman was also very critical of spending on restaurant meals between the CEO and the Minister: “I am all the more concerned by DPTI’s practice of funding restaurant meals between the Chief Executive and other public officers. I note, in particular, that DPTI appears to have funded at least two CBD restaurant meals between Mr Deegan and the Minister responsible for this Department – at least one meeting of which involved the purchase of alcohol using departmental funds.”
Mr Mullighan now needs to explain why he needed to be meeting his own CEO at restaurants in the Adelaide CBD rather than saving taxpayers’ money by meeting his own CEO in his office.
The Ombudsman was also critical of $860.50 spent at the Barn Steakhouse at a Community Cabinet meeting in Mount Gambier because the Minister or Ministers had left their credit cards in their rooms.
In conclusion, the Ombudsman found that there had been a ‘substantial mismanagement of public resources’ including purchase and consumption of significant quantities of alcohol without ‘sufficient or any rationale’.
He also concluded that there were transactions of ‘dubious public value and in excess of reasonable community expectations’.
The Ombudsman has made a number of recommendations including that the Government develop and implement a suitable whole-of-government policy to govern expenditure in this area. The Government will commence work on developing a suitable policy.
It should be noted that Premier Marshall has already implemented a policy which restricts significantly the ability of Ministers to use credit cards to purchase alcohol with meals.
The background to this inquiry was an FOI request lodged in December 2016 by me to get copies of all invoices and expenditure for the period 2015 and 2016.
In particular, we were seeking copies of invoices of alcohol and meals expenditure by the CEO for meals with Minister Mullighan.
After previous FOI requests of Ministerial credit card expenditure had embarrassed a number of Ministers, we were advised that Ministers were starting to avoid scrutiny by having CEOs or Chiefs of Staff using their credit cards to pick up the bills.
By refusing to provide these invoices when required by the Ombudsman, Mr Deegan managed to prevent the release of any of these embarrassing invoices until after the 2018 State election.