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Pre-election Fiddles

With councils, it is common to 'adjust' the books just prior to an election to make them look as good as possible in order to reflect well on the incumbents. All staff like to be popular with elected members - particularly if they believe there is every likelihood of them being returned to office. And there is no doubt that staff bathe in reflected glory if the books can be made to look good at 30 June ready for the following election.

Our Council is no exception to this rule, and this was fully in evidence yesterday as CFO Steve Baker explained that there was no need to worry about CAPEX falling well behind budget. On Tuesday, he indicated that Capex had been brought down from $35m to $23m but that only $16m had been spent to date - wow! - 16 May - 45 days to go! Steve Baker was clear at least that next years Capex was heading through the roof, and well he might. 

Yesterday, he advised that Opex was down by $4.7m to the end of April - very laudable and indicative of some major belt-tightening, but employee benefits were over by $165k - explained by the 'in-housing' of legal, postal and regulatory services - fair enough, but indicative that there is still a heap of dead wood being carried as staffing issues over MBSC work their way towards finality.

Of far greater concern is the Capex situation because as sure as God made little apples , Capex for 2013/14 is heading through the roof as projects are postponed and deliberately delayed through the end of this financial year. It won't affect the borrowing projections for 30 June 2014 - up by $22m as I have reported over and over, but it will improve the situation for 30 June 2013 dramatically thus enabling our incumbents to claim all manner of kudos for their wonderful management of Council's finances.  

It may not be the first time that this sleight of hand has been employed by any means, but it is a rather alarming and egregious example of the genre. I just hope that that staff are not involved in initiating this 'fiddle', and that we can be confident that it is entirely Mayor and Council led. The evident glee yesterday indicated the latter, but with the former as willing participants nevertheless.




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