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Auditor General at Kaipara

Lynn Provost fronted up at Mangawhai today to give a verbal on the Report that will be released in Parliament on Tuesday. The gist of what she said at Mangawhai was reported on Radio NZ today, and it provides a really disturbing picture of the competency of the Government Audit Office - to the extent that it has been forbidden from taking on new work.

What is really disturbing is that it is the work of this same Office that we have been relying on to maintain  surveillance over the financials of our own Council, and the parallels between what happened at Kaipara and what has happened here are too close for comfort.

I amongst others have directly criticised the work of the Office on countless occasions after they failed to follow up well documented complaints and requests for further investigation. In fact, I cannot recall a single occasion in the last seven years when such a direct request to the Auditor General has met with anything other than denial, or refusal to undertake any further investigation.

In all this time, we have witnessed the presence of an Auditor General representative at every meeting of the Audit Committee on which he has seat by right. My own observation is that successive representatives have  consistently accepted information provided by the Council without question, and this is exactly Lynn Provost's complaint about the way in which the Office operated at Kaipara - far too trusting and accepting. To quote - "The Auditor relied on the Council's management as the primary source of audit evidence and did not independently corroborate the information provided. The errors affected four annual audits and long term plan audits."

This shows that  it is time that the Audit Office was required to go head to head against private audit providers in an open tender process - trying to sue a government department for lack of performance is futile.

It is as well that a separate enquiry is under way into the performance of the Office as even the highly critical report of Lynn Provost must be regarded as an internal, and therefore a potentially biased enquiry, even though she has slated members of her own staff in unequivocal terms. Her hesitancy and contradictory comments during the course of a hard-hitting interview on Radio NZ at 5 o'clock is indicative of embarrassment, and raises concern about her own competence. 

Altogether a totally unsatisfactory situation, and I am immensely concerned that it has occurred in the week when our Council will have to come to terms with its own incompetent decision making and governance following on a set of almost identical circumstances resulting from gross over-expenditure on its wastewater systems. Admittedly, this goes back beyond its first election, but it was this Council that decided to cut rates, against advice.

It is interesting to note Lynn Provost's comment that far too many decisions at Kaipara were made in 'closed door' workshops after white-board presentations. Where have we heard that before?

Had I been elected, it was my intention to call for an immediate and independent inquiry into the Council's finances primarily because of my real concerns about the Council's borrowing policy, but the Auditor General's response at Kaipara points to concerns about Council finances generally, and the work of her Office going back at least seven years or more.    




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