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.