Yesterday (4 January 2017) the WA Shire of Exmouth Council (the council), on WA's north-west coast, was suspended for a period of six months following an investigation by the WA's Corruption and Crime Commission (the CCC). The order for suspension was made by the WA Minister for Local Government Mr Paul Miles and was published in the Government Gazette No 3 of 4 January 2017 at p 65.
The Order suspending the council is reported to have arisen from a CCC investigation into ". . . alleged financial mismanagement by senior staff members of a planned $30 million science and research hub". The project known as the Ningaloo Centre, saw the awarding of a million dollar contract to build the project without tenders being called for.
The CCC's investigators raided the council's office in August 2016, and it is reported that on 9 December 2016, the council was issued a "Show Cause Notice" requiring councillors to ". . . explain why they should not be suspended". Following this the shire's chief executive was sacked amid complaints that residents deserved better governance from its council.
In a statement from the Local Government Minister's office, the Minister is reported as saying ". . . the decision to suspend the councilors was due to a grave lack of understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
The Minister's action to suspended the council the statement said:
". . . followed an investigation and public hearing by the CCC, which identified significant and serious levels of non-compliance with the Local Government Act 1995 (WA), in relation to procurement and tendering processes, . . ."
Clause 3 (1) of the order suspends the council of the Shire of Exmouth, pursuant to Local Government Act 1995 (WA) section 8.15C(2)(c) and clause 3(2) provides pursuant to Local Government Act 1995 (WA) section 8.15C(2)(d) that:
". . . the Minister requires each member of the council of the Shire of Exmouth to undertake governance training in the responsibilities and functions of a council, with the training to focus on the statutory compliance duties of local government and to be of a standard and kind determined by the Departmental CEO".
The order is effective for six months from 4 January 2016. The former chief executive of the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder has been appointed Commissioner for the Council of the Shire Exmouth while the CCC investigation, which is ongoing, continues. As yet, it is not known publicly, if criminal charges will result from the CCC's investigations.
The Shire of Exmouth's former Chief Executive is reported to have apologised for letting the council and the shire down while a former councilor has criticised the CCC's investigation process claiming that it "kept councillors in the dark".
The Minister is quoted as saying that he hoped the incident would "serve as a lesson to other councils" in northern WA:
"I hope that other councils in the North West will look at what's being done at Exmouth, and may start looking at some of their own internal policies to make sure they are running effectively, . . . When I hear [chief executives] saying they didn't do the right thing when it comes to council, that the [chief executive] and the shire didn't do the right thing when it comes to tenders, that's got very serious consequences for the council as a whole."
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Local Government (Shire of Exmouth – Suspension and Appointment of Commissioner) Order 2017 as reported in the TimeBase LawOne Service
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