With revelations of late around the alienation of Council's Audit Risk and Improvement Committee’s (ARIC) in regards to being fully briefed on all matters financial in the leadup to Council signing off on a $70 million tender to proceed with the Batemans Bay pool and theatre project news of a recommendation for the appointment of an new independent member to the Audit Committee brings hope to those in the community who believe the Committee should be more engaged in their role. The Audit Risk and Improvement Committee’s (ARIC) is an advisory committee to Council and the General Manager. Of interest is that the independent external members are appointed for the term of council, after which they will be eligible for extension or re-appointment following a formal review of their performance. As Council now approaches its caretaker role in the leadup to the September 4th Local Government elections any appointment made at next Tuesday's meeting will require a clarification of the length of tenure as the report to councillors clearly states "independent external members are appointed for the term of council" The Eurobodalla Shire Council Audit Risk and Improvement Committee Terms of Reference allows for three independent members on the committee. Ms Sharlene Cohen, independent member, resigned from the ARIC for personal reasons on 21 January 2021. An advertisement was placed on Council’s website on 22 February 2021 and Council’s noticeboard on 24 February 2021 inviting interested members of the community to apply for the vacant position. There were a number of enquiries regarding the vacant position before the closing date of 7 March 2021, however only one application was received. Due to only receiving one application, the Committee requested the advertisement to be run, allowing another three weeks for applications to be received. The vacancy was re-advertised on 8 March 2021. A further six applications were received by the closing date of 28 March 2021. Council advised that the members of the ARIC, taken collectively, should have a broad range of skills and experience relevant to the operations of Eurobodalla Shire Council. Some of the roles and responsibilities of the ARIC members relate to reviewing risk management, control framework, external accountability and legislative compliance and preference given to a person with local interests and a strong background in areas of administration, corporate or public sector governance, finance, audit, legal, project management, or management generally. Following an assessment of all the applications, a short list was forwarded to the ARIC for review and consideration. Applicants 4 and 6 were identified and requested to undertake interviews on 11 May 2021. Applicant 4 withdrew his application on 10 May 2021, (prior to the interview) for personal reasons. Applicant 6 underwent the interview as scheduled and all voting members of the ARIC unanimously agreed on his recommendation. Recent revelations in Council chambers has revealed that the Audit and Risk Committee were not provided all of the financial information at hand to enable them to assess the risk of committing to the $70 million Mackay Park project. The General Manager has revealed that neither the ARIC (and councillors) were provided with a letter from the Office of Local Government voicing their concern of Council's capacity to subsidise the running costs of the new facility from the General Fund. The General Manager also revealed that the committee was not provided a copy of the tender document stating that it was "Commercial in Confidence" and therefore not for their eyes. Yet Council's own documents state that the Council authorises the Committee, within the scope of its role and responsibilities to:
· require any information it needs from any employee or external party (subject to legal obligations to protect information)
· discuss any matters with the external auditor or other external parties (subject to confidentiality considerations)
· request the attendance of any employee or councillor at Committee meetings
· obtain external legal or other professional advice considered necessary to meet its responsibilities. · Review the risks, progress, controls, finances and performance surrounding major projects. The Audit Risk and Improvement Committee has concurred that Applicant 6, be offered the vacant position of Independent member. This decision is supported by the General Manager. Now it comes down to the Councillors agreeing. Given the nature of the Councillor voting bloc that saw the incredibly well qualified Councillor Pat McGinlay voted down as a Council representative on committee with Lindsay Brown given the role it is hoped that Applicant 6 will bring a drive to uncover the veils of secrecy that have permeated into this committee, souring its credibility as a watchdog, and to open the scope of the audits to be carried out on behalf of the community. It is now hoped that the soon to be approved applicant will bring a fresh vitality to the committee. It is understood that the possible choice, if approved, was once responsible for a staff of 6,000 with an annual expenditure budget of AU$7 billion, managing more than 1 per cent of the nation's GDP, and appointed a member of the Order of Australia for his service to public administration and defence projects. We can only hope.