Friday, December 09, 2005

Council administration seeks to water down disclosure and accountability

Melbourne City Council administration seeks to avoid accountability by watering down proposed recommendation to publish Council's Travel Register

Link to Original Report (pdf)

A report to be considered by the City Council on December 13, 2005 seeks to limit the publication of the Council's Travel register recording all staff and Councillor's overseas and interstate travel expenses.

Melbourne City Council CEO, David Pitchford. claims he had sent a memo to all Councillors the day before Christmas Eve 2004 informing Councillors that the Travel Register which was previously published on the internet would be removed.

The Council administration is now claiming that the publication of information recorded in the Travel Register would contravene staff privacy requirements.

Clearly Council staff do not want to be held accountable or fail to understand the extent of corporate responsibility they have in respect to the expenditure of public money.

Ratepayers' and the public have a right to know the full extent of staff and councillor overseas and interstate travel expenses.

The Travel Register is required to be maintained by the City Council - Reg 11 Local Government (General) Regulations. It is a public document required to be made available to the public on request. The publication on the Internet is an efficient and cost effective means of making this information available for public scrutiny.

The recommendation proposed by Cr Shanahan calls on the Council to only publish the Travel register on a quarterly basis. Why?

There is no reason why the information should not be published as and when the register is updated.

The proposal to limit the publication on a quarterly basis is unwarranted and should be rejected by the council who should insist that the information is maintained and published within 24 hours of the register being updated.

Further the current wording of Cr Shanahan's recommendation indicates that the information will not be available until the end of 2006. - We think this is a typo-error but if it is not corrected it will certainly give the administration more time to avoid publication and accountability

Travel Register "Electronic Whiteboard" open to misuse and abuse

In the past the register was maintained in a hard bound folder and as such made it extremely difficult for the Council administration to tamper with the information recorded.

The Melbourne City Council Travel register is currently recorded on a "Electronic Whiteboard"in the form of an Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

It is widely open to abuse in that information is readily changeable and items can be altered or removed without any record or audit trail. - Another reason why the information should be published in a timely fashion within 24 hour of any changes to allow for the monitoring of any change to the data.

In 2004 the Council administration altered the Travel Register removing expenses allocated to former Cr Nicholson's St. Petersburg sorte - $8,000 in travel expenses missing and unaccounted for. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.


The Council's Travel Register clearly needs review and basic audit requirements need to be implemented to maintain public confidence in the Council's accounts.

If the Council is serious about maintaining an open and transparent governance then it should consider the following recommendations:

The Travel register :

  1. MUST be published on the Council's web site and the publication updated within 24 hours of any addition or update to the information recorded in the register.
  2. Should be maintained in a database as opposed to a spreadsheet.
  3. MUST record a sequential record ID number so as to assist with the audit process of the Council.
  4. MUST record the date of entry and the date of any modification to items listed.
  5. Should include the date, instrument of authorisation and name of the person authorising travel expenses.
  6. Should record a breakdown of costs - covering Travel, Accommodation, Conference fees and incidentals in addition to the total costs of actual travel expenses. This would enable better reconciliation with other accounts and reports of the information provided.
  7. Should record the authorisation of travel expenses and include a budget allocation with reference to the appropriate approved taxation department travel expenses guidelines, accompanied with any documentation or travel diaries and expense receipts as required and listed under current taxation guidelines (TR 03-007) be published.
  8. Where the costs of a staff member or Councillor travel is subsidised or self funded in full or in part then a note identifying the source and extent of the subsidy/funding should be made on the Travel Register. It is important that the public know the full extent of any third party funding of overseas trips - Remember the overseas trips taken by the Former Victorian Governor General sacked by the Cain Government after it was discovered that the costs of the Governor's trip to the united States was paid for by an American Casino corporation.

The above recommendations are basic requirements that whilst going above and beyond the minimum requirements outline in the Local Government regulations clearly would enhance the functionality of the Council's governance whilst limiting the potential for fraud and deceit.

Anthony van Der Craats

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