Wednesday, December 14, 2005

e-Governance and the Electronic Whiteboard

The Melbourne City Council last night passed, as expected, a resolution requesting the Council to republish the details of the Council's Travel Register on its Internet site.

John So and his team were at first reluctant but latter agreed under pressure from other Councillors who thought the public have a right of access to this information

It has taken the City of Melbourne over 7 years and cost 10o's of thousands of dollars in Council resources trying to avoid accountability and the publication of this basic public document. It was published for a brief moment last year and then mysteriously removed during the Christmas break.

Disappointingly the City Council has only requested that the register be published on a quarterly basis. Why?

It is a public document that is readily updated. The register should be published as and when the information recorded on the register changes.

This means that we will still have to drop into Town Hall and arrange inspection of the real register to monitor the changes. More wasted resources as the Council tries to avoid its public responsibility and accountability.

The register in its current format is widely open to abuse and in the recent past we have seen how readily the Council administration fiddles with the details of the register. There is no sequential record id, as would normally be the case, so it is rather easy for corrupt staff or staff acting under instruction to remove items from publication. In the past, under the old system, it was very difficult to falsify the register as the information was written into a hard bound book and any changes would show up immediately.

The Travel register is effectively an Electronic Whiteboard.

Without a valid record id it is going to be harder for an audit to be undertaken to verify the correctness and fullness of the accounts.

We witnessed last year modifications to the register when it suited the Council. Tony Nicholson's St Petersburg expenses mysteriously changed overnight and missing to account is $8,000.00 which the Council had paid out but had not yet been acquitted in that the receipts are missing.

The Council administration's response? Say nothing do nothing, try and avoid the question and provide no answers.

How many other accounts are missing data or hidden away under some other expense item or creative accounting?

This does not reflect well on the Auditors who we believe are trying their best to keep up with the bad accounting practices of the administration. They should not have to be placed in this sort of compromising position. The system should be comprehensive, honest, open and transparent.

e-Governance - reality or myth?

The City of Melbourne has spent thousands of dollars in talk fests and the like promoting the benefits of e-Governance in justifying the expense of developing electronic management systems but when it comes to implementation of basic public accountability and disclosure of public documents they are not prepared to be held to account. The cost of publishing this information is around $1.00

For how long can they hold back the tide of change?

If the Council can not demonstrate its ability to self-govern then clearly the State Government must. The Government need to review Local Government Legislation and regulations to ensure that Council's live up to their responsibility and make sure information is readily available for public scrutiny via the internet. The internet is a valuable cost effective tool in ensure that Governments are held to account by maintaining an honest open and transparent government.

Where to now?

The Council MUST reconsider and publish the register when information changes. Information should be published within 24 hours of any changes to the data.

The Council MUST include a Record ID and date stamp as is the normal standard`practice so as to enable proper audit of the register.

There should be a break down of costs listing Travel, Accommodation, conference fees and sundry so the information can be reconciled with other accounts to demonstrate that nothing is missing and the Register has not been falsified as has occurred in the past.

Other public documents should also be published and made available on the internet including the cost of in-house catering and the cost of the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor's ratepayer funded vehicles and details of the monthly financial accounts.

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