Coun­cil duped on aquar­ium

Pilbara News - - News - Elle Far­cic, Cally Dupe and Ali­cia Per­era

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.

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