Saturday, May 8, 2021

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Home Issue 42 Council mum on breaching its purchasing policy

Council mum on breaching its purchasing policy

By ERWIN CHLANDA

The Town Council is in breach of its purchasing policy that requires price comparisons ensuring that the ratepayer isn’t ripped off.

That policy appears to have been consistently flouted for a decade or more, and what’s worse, in a public sphere that underpins our democracy: Information media.

In the Journalistic Code of Ethics three of its 10 “commandments” deal with the obligation of journalists to resist being influenced in their work by commercial considerations of the medium they are working for.

“Pay for a full page advert and we’ll write a nice story about you” is about the most corrupt deal imaginable in journalism.

This, of course, works both ways: Whoever offers advertising money in exchange for editorial favours is as corrupt as whoever provides them.

As it turns out the person who decides where the council spends its advertising money, ratepayers’ money of course, is also the person who is charged with influencing media to make the council look good.

We are not saying she is an offender against these ethical principles, but she has certainly been put into a position where she can become one. The circumstances invite speculation.

For goods or services valued at $5,000 or less the “Responsible Officer” needs not obtain a quotation.

Between $5,001 and no more than $10,000 a minimum of three “local” verbal quotations must be obtained, and between $10,000 and $100,000 the three “local” quotes need to be in writing.

In September the officer spent $3498 with the Murdoch NT News (its stable mate, the Advocate, became defunct in June).

Extrapolated over a year that amounts to $41,976 which would put the spend well into the category that requires three written quotations.

To the best of my recollection the Alice Springs News has not had a single request for a quote from the council in the past 10 years.

This is astonishing given there were only two written-word media in this town and with the demise of the Advocate, the News is now the only one.

The officer recently placed a council advert in the NT News which twice a week masquerades as the Advocate, on four of its 64 pages, mostly pictures and hand-outs, judging by the September 25 edition.

The council is making a mockery of its own procurement policy by chopping up what is usually an annual contract, into bits each costing less than $5000.

The road building equivalent would be: “Here’s $4999 for 23.9 metres. You’ll get another cheque tomorrow.”

So while – cynically viewed – the rule is not broken, the total cost to the ratepayer may well be in excess of what could be obtained through competitive quotes.

Advertising contracts are usually entered for a year, based on anticipated space use, and with significant discounts the greater that use is.

Are ratepayers missing out on that opportunity? Or has the officer a discreet deal with the Murdoch organisation?

The other question is, what meaning does the council ascribe to the word “local” that repeatedly appears in its policy?

Does a medium owned by a person living in the United States (Rupert Murdoch) and produced 1500 kms away in Darwin qualify as “local”?

Most of the editorial, production and administrative work of the Alice Springs News – now its 27th year of publication – is being done in Alice Springs.

We have put this issue to all the Elected Members of the council, after fruitlessly addressing the administration. Not a single one has raised these concerning issues for official resolution.

It’s “operational,” you see.

PHOTO: The new make-believe Advocate, all the way from Darwin. Hand-outs as news, and an Alice Springs Town Council paid advertisement.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Gee, this is gutsy Erwin.
    Some may perceive this article as sour grapes in that the Alice Springs News “has not had a single request for a quote in the past 10 years” but you know that.
    If you hadn’t highlighted this perceived unethical practice we, the ratepayers would once again be none the wiser about council’s spending practices.
    Given we now have a new CEO and new directors I would even question if they were fully aware of this in-house media practice.
    One would like to hope so however, these new folk can’t be over everything. So I’ll be interested to see if the “local” medium now gets recognised!
    Yet as you say, the councillors have been made aware. Why have they been reluctant to expose this very local business mistreatment?
    Many of the councillors are local business people themselves and just like you, they are ratepayers. How would they respond if one of their best customers informed them that they were concerned about not being contacted for a quote for a business project.
    Would they reply: “It’s an operational thing”? I don’ t think so. They would want to look into why the customer was never contacted or requested to give a quote.
    “It’s operational” is beginning to sound like the COVID excuse when our representatives want an out.
    Thank you for pointing this out but it sure as hell is wrong if a “local” entity is being sidestepped because they won’t ensure unethical journalism.

  2. @ Relieved: I can assure everyone it’s not sour grapes. The Council has a very interesting policy when it comes to procurement. Case in point, the current published policy is dated 31st August 2015 with a next review date of 30th June 2018! If you were stupid enough to submit a tender, but were unsuccessful, try to arrange a debrief and see what happens! See link.
    One of the major issues is, that the procurement people have little or no idea about governance or probity for that matter.
    I thought that when the new CEO and the Director of Corporate Service commenced, things would change for the better, but they haven’t.
    Furthermore, the Council do not understand the importance of supporting local business. A lot of their purchases are made interstate, bypassing local suppliers.
    Then when the equipment needs servicing, they have the audacity to seek help from the local businesses.
    My biggest issue with the Council is the lack of transparency. It’s our money that funds all of the Council. The way that they perform is often bordering on totalitarianism.
    20 years ago, I submitted my first tender response to the Council.
    In passing I asked my competitor if he was going to tender and his exact words were “Why the f*** would I waste my time”. I was a bit shocked at his response, but those words ring true today.
    As a business owner, I had submitted many responses, won some and lost some, but I will never again deal with them on any level, apart from reluctantly paying my rates.

  3. @ Surprised: Alice Springs Town Council have no reason (or probably wish on many occasions) to comply with any of their “policies”.
    Probably because they have, under the Local Government Act, absolutely no legal requirement to do so.
    Their current policies read so welcoming and positive and induce so much faith and positiveness that they will be followed. Read them.
    In reality they are tokenistic motherhood statements.
    However, if you made their “policies” legally enforceable, as with by-Laws, and not a cherry-picking exercise to be chosen at whim to support their own particular, situational position and agenda, I suspect this would change fairly quickly.
    And make Council so much more accountable to the people they are supposed to represent and work for ie. all of the residents and ratepayers.
    Is it just me, or do Local Councils seem to foster megalomaniacs?

  4. Such comments following on from this article should be viewed as alarming.
    One only has to read the council policy statements, the council Code of Conduct as well as the “👍Locals supporting Locals👍” page, enshrined with words that are meant to inform the residents, the ratepayers, in fact anyone who takes the time to read them, that we have a caring and reputable corporate body of governance supporting us.
    Not so, I’m afraid to point out.
    Clearly it’s hypocritical to postulate about “local support” and set “selective” community policy guidelines and yes, masquerade business dealings as legitimate and in line with the observed written word. Such hypocrisy.
    To be blindsided with such hyperbole is in itself condescending and as can be seen, is open to scrutiny and unpleasant exposure.
    “Confidential business” is one such means to keeping the community, other than those imbued with some kind of self appointed selective authorisation, in the dark.
    Author and philosopher Thomas Paine wrote: “Every community has the right to demand of all its agents, an account of their conduct.”
    We are one such community now that we have such limited media reporting.
    Thank you Erwin for bringing this matter to the attention of your readers who have expressed their frustration, maybe disgust, with their own accounts of local business mistreatment. Shameful.

  5. To those who complain about the Alice Springs Town Council, try comparing them to NT Government.
    At least at ASTC you can deal with real people – some real good ones too!
    With NTG all you get is bureaucratic obfuscation via Darwin.

  6. No one should be sidetracked by a statement that a government needs to be held accountable. That’s precisely what a good opposition does, or at best, should do.
    Unfortunately, local governments don’t have such elected opposition so we, the residents and ratepayers are it.
    Calling out undisputed or even perceived disreputable local government practices is not about complaining.
    Calling out such practices as have been reportedly occurring, including a breach of council policy, is disclosing, even exposing this council, the focus of this article now being commented on, for their practice of lessening the opportunities of local businesses being placed in a position to seek and offer local employment.
    Local businesses in any municipality deserve every opportunity to survive, especially in the current climate and, especially by their local government.
    Any local government advertising and advocating for “👍Locals supporting Locals👍“ and being exposed for doing otherwise is not demonstrating the kind of practice that generates trustworthiness. They also need to be accountable.
    It simply raises questions about transparency and “confidential business” governance meetings in the name of community interests.
    This is not about complaining, this is all about uncovering unconscionable advertising and work practices.

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