Council duped on aquarium
The Shire of Exmouth chief executive has admitted he “misled” councillors when he recommended appointing a Perth-based company to build the $1 million Ningaloo Centre aquarium without putting it out to tender.
Corruption and Crime Commission officers held public hearings at their Perth offices from last Thursday into claims of misconduct by some Shire officers.
The main allegations centre on the awarding of a contract for construction of the large aquarium at the $32 million Ningaloo Centre development, which is currently under construction.
CCC officers allege Shire chief executive Bill Price, assisted by friend and Shire strategic projects officer Andrew Forte, granted the aquarium contract to Perth-based company Ocean Reefs Production Pty Ltd without calling for tenders, as was the usual procedure.
They also allege Mr Price misled councillors by submitting a report on July 27 that recommended they engage the company on the basis it offered a unique service, when there was no proof of that, and the contract had already been awarded.
Counsel assisting the commissioner Tony Power questioned Mr Price on Thursday and Friday last week.
“Council was misled by the chief executive officer into believing the awarding of the contract was dependent on its decision, ” he said.
“The decision to enter into the contract had already been made two months earlier and payments in the hundreds of thousands of dollars had already been made.”
Mr Price was also questioned about the hiring of friends, the use of his Shire-issued credit card, his travel expenses and his leave applications.
He told the CCC he understood he was in a position where he had to lead by example and be familiar with council policies, and admitted he had “stuffed up” in signing the contract because of time pressure.
Mr Forte was questioned on Monday about the risks arising from the lack of financial due diligence on ORP.
The CCC hearings were held to investigate new evidence, obtained from a raid on the Shire offices in August, which had not been covered in private witness examinations already.
A CCC WA spokeswoman said the decision to hold the hearings publicly had been made in the public interest.
They were the first CCC hearings to be streamed live online.