Background To "The Staffing Audit"!
Monday, October 5, 2015 at 11:00AM
Bill Barclay

It has been obvious for a very long time that there are aspects of the TCDC accounts that have been open to question. I will not go into detail at this point, because every single time I have raised issues in the past, Chief Finance Officer Steve Baker has rushed to dismiss them as having been dealt with by Audit New Zealand, and as the accounts  had been cleared and signed off, there was no issue.  

Audit NZ, and incidentally the Ombudsman, have taken to ignoring requests for investigation. Some of these issues are generic in terms of local government accounting, and often related to issues consistently raised over the years by Larry Mitchell – particularly around borrowing.

I have attended the annual Council meetings where a series of senior Audit New Zealand staff have attended and provided assurances of clean accounts, and not once have they been questioned, let alone doubts expressed. But hold on, despite claims to the contrary - there is no-one, apart from an outside appointee from Tauranga on the Audit Committee, or Council with high-level competence in this area.

They appear to simply rubber-stamp whatever Baker, and the auditor tells them. Indeed Leach has made a point of discouraging any questioning of accounts from the table – he appears impatient of any display of financial inquisitiveness. He always wants issues raised directly with staff outside of meetings – a totally unsatisfactory methodology that is contrary to best governance practice. And recall his failed effort to vilify me in a public in a Council meeting for having had the termerity to raise issues with the Auditor General. He wanted the cost of dealing with my enquiries reported back - they never were I am sad to say!

TCDC is not on its own in this regard – most councils play at the governance role, they do not normally have the ability or competence to question finance staff or auditors - they are lay people in the main who must simply accept what they are told – an unsatisfactory situation that has pertained in this country since the advent of local government. In other words councils operate without the level of financial oversight required of public companies. And there is always the new rating year to bail them out of any immediate embarrassment.

Readers will have noted that since the current imbroglio commenced in regard to staffing numbers, the reliance that Laurna White - Communications Manager has placed on the "audited staff numbers” that have been provided to her to answer my queries, and defend them even when contradicted by leaked internal documents.

I have sat on sufficient boards, both government and semi-government, and run sufficient businesses and NGO's in my time to have a fairly critical view of the capabilities, and limitations of auditors. Their willingness to 'drill-down' into accounts and the statements provided to them by staff in the face of time limitations on their work is always in question.

Claims to have audited this, or that area – particularly outside of the financial envelope are often simply a matter of trust, and I would suggest that it is most likely that the staffing audit in this case falls into that category. Recall if you will the need to bring in Deloittes for the investigation into the Whitianga Sports Ground scandal, and the subsequent decision to permanently suppress their report. 

More later on the staffing situation!



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