Ombudsman finds failings in system

By Cobram Courier

A report released by the Victorian Ombudsman found former Goulburn-Murray Water managing director Pat Lennon claimed, which former chair Jo Anderson approved, reimbursement to which he was not entitled.

Tabling her investigation into allegations of improper conduct by officers at G-MW in the Victorian Parliament last Wednesday, ombudsman Deborah Glass said her investigation exposed failings with individuals and the systems which support them.

Ms Glass said the conduct of the former managing director, who claimed about $40000 in expenses, while on a $380000-plus annual salary, and the chair, who approved all the managing director’s claims, was inappropriate.

‘‘To a community facing years of hardship because of the drought and the dairy crisis, this conduct seems particularly out of line with public expectations,’’ she said.

Her investigation found the managing director claimed and the chair approved:

●Reimbursement for almost $20000 of household assets, including a high-end barbecue, to set up the managing director’s Shepparton home after he moved from Melbourne to take up the role.

●A living-away-from-home allowance, which provided him with an $11000 tax break. The managing director’s ongoing pursuit of this tax break led G-MW to spend more than $17000 on legal/accounting fees to determine his eligibility.

●More than $21000 worth of expenses in 13 months for meals and drinks, including alcohol and hotel stays in Melbourne. This was despite G-MW’s board policy for director reimbursement making it clear alcohol was not claimable.

Ms Glass made seven recommendations for improvement. All have been accepted by the relevant authorities.

G-MW chair Diane James welcomed the release of the findings.

‘‘G-MW has already put in place measures to address the issues raised by the Ombudsman and has accepted all of the recommendations made in the report,’’ she said.

‘‘This includes a review, already under way, into relevant policies and procedures to ensure the issues raised in this report are being addressed.

‘‘We have fully cooperated with this investigation, which was triggered after a G-MW employee raised concerns with the appropriate authorities.

‘‘What has occurred is completely unacceptable and I’m sure the community will be appalled at the findings in the Ombudsman’s report detailing conduct which will be well below community expectations.

‘‘There are many people in these communities doing it tough and they will be rightly outraged by these findings, which is why we’re seeking legal advice on how we can recoup any expenses incorrectly approved.

‘‘The release of the Ombudsman’s report is testament to the fact that all G-MW employees, no matter their position, are held to these same standards of conduct.

‘‘The G-MW board of directors moved swiftly and decisively in dealing with this matter.’’