Coorong council misused credit cards between 2016 and 2018, Auditor-General finds

Photo: Shutterstock.
Photo: Shutterstock.

Alcohol, flowers and flights were inappropriately bought with Coorong ratepayers' money between 2016 and 2018, South Australia's Auditor-General has found.

In a report published last week, Auditor-General Andrew Richardson found the council did not always use or manage its credit cards efficiently or economically between July 2016 and April 2018.

Of 36 transactions he investigated, 29 involved spending in "sensitive" areas including travel, entertainment, gifts or staff rewards.

This included:

  • $2213.76 on flights to Canberra for a conference, including for a councillor's spouse
  • $884.39 on alcohol for three art exhibition openings
  • $550 in jewellery store vouchers for departing staff
  • $389 on an aquarium

Staff were unable to give a reasonable explanation for four transactions.

In five cases, ratepayers' money had been used to cover travel costs not previously approved by councillors; and six times the reasons for travel were not adequately explained.

Mr Richardson also ruled that former chief executive officer Vincent Cammell should not have given former Mayor Neville Jaensch access to a council credit card.

Staff should have paid for his expenses through other means.

Mr Richardson said it was inappropriate for ratepayers' money to be spent on gifts to staff or other people "other than in rare circumstances" because employees were already paid for their work.

He recommended stricter policies around credit card use, noting that the council had already lifted its game in that area and had committed to acting on a further 20 recommendations.

Chief executive officer Bridget Mather said the council had been working closely with the Auditor-General's office to "fill in the gaps we found", including by hiring a consultant to further investigate 16 card-holders.

"We've accepted all their recommendations and will work over each of them," she said.

An updated policy would be put to councillors at their May meeting, she said.

The council is yet to publish the outcome of a subsequent investigation into 16 card-holders, carried out by a consultant.

The $208,000 charged to credit cards during the Auditor-General's investigation represented less than two per cent of the council's total spending.

Transparency and efficiency of public spending was one of the issues which propelled the so-called Team for Change to power at the November 2018 council election, after which six of nine councillors were replaced and Paul Simmons succeeded Cr Jaensch as Mayor.

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