When employed as an Accounts Clerk in the New South Wales Department of School Education in 1992 I observed, and reported, over a period of several months, to my superiors and then to the (internal) Director of Audit a number of accounting problems affecting both the general Finance area and Curriculum Directorate, where I worked.
The main ones were:
(1) The fact that monies coming from the Commonwealth Government were allocated, and had to be accounted for, on a calendar year basis, whereas the Department's computerised accounts payable system was rigidly set up to account for expenditure only on a financial year basis; and the gross inability of staff to cope properly with this situation, which caused continual and expensive confusion.
(2) The practice of many staff, which had been going on for many years, in contravention of the Public Finance and Audit Act, of from time to time debiting expenditures to wrong expenditure accounts, i.e. misrepresenting them as spent in one area, when they were in fact spent in another. This happened for various reasons of convenience, ignorance, or lack of definition of account titles.
Despite taking up my grievances, in the public interest, with the abovementioned staff, and then with many other authorities, including the Minister, I got practically nowhere. I left the Department at the end of 1992, continued my battle into 1993, gave up for a while, then started again in 1995 after joining Whistleblowers Australia. This was because I had been given no reason to believe the culture of the Department had since become ethical enough to correct such problems; in fact media items from time to time had made me think very much otherwise (and still do).
After trying a fresh general approach with the Ombudsman and the (new) Minister, which failed, I decided to write a letter to the Minister asking simple questions with regard to expenditure in the "English as a Second Language General Support" account. This was the one which, in my experience, was most seriously misrepresented in the Multicultural Unit of Curriculum Directorate in the years 91/92 and 92/93, being overstated using considerable sums spent on quite different (albeit quite legitimate) things in that unit. I thought I had him; but I was wrong of course! The Minister's reply (after an expected three months stalling delay) is an awesomely brilliant example of public service fudge. Compulsory reading for all budding staffers!
phone: 02-9559 1680
14 June 1996
1/81 Warren Rd.
27 December 1995
John Aquilina, M.P.
Minister for Education and Training
re: E.S.L. General Support Expenditure Account No. 0002462020280
For the financial year ended 30th June 1992, is the official record which your Department has of the total of expenditures under E.S.L General Support Expenditure Account No. 0002462020280 a reasonably true and accurate record of the actual total of expenditures for that year on General Support for E.S.L., i.e. of the whole of the expenditures which were made and for which that Account was set up and nothing but those expenditures?
For the financial year ended 30th June 1993, is the official record which your Department has of the total of expenditures under E.S.L General Support Expenditure Account No. 0002462020280 a reasonably true and accurate record of the actual total of expenditures for that year on General Support for E.S.L., i.e. of the whole of the expenditures which were made and for which that Account was set up and nothing but those expenditures?
Mr R Blake
1/81 Warren Road
MARRICKVILLE NSW 2204
Dear Mr Blake
I refer to your letter concerning expenditure of English as a Second Language (ESL) general support funds in 1992 and 1993.
Advice has been forwarded indicating that when you first referred your above concerns in 1992 to Mr Kevin Sykes, Director Audit, Department of School Education, and to Mr Len Slack, Director Audit, Audit Office of New South Wales, they were thoroughly investigated.
You were then advised by Mr Sykes in April 1993 that the audit had confirmed some of the issues you had raised, that action had been taken to tighten relevant controls and that the Auditor-General was satisfied that action taken by the Department was appropriate to solve the issues raised.
A follow up audit of the area was conducted by the Audit Directorate in October 1994. The result of this audit was satisfactory, largely due to the actions taken to improve the financial management procedures.
Mr Sykes has advised me that the matters raised by you have been thoroughly investigated, that the overall standard of financial management in the Department is high and that the impact on the Department's financial statements of any of the incorrect debits suggested by you is immaterial.
On the basis of that advice I have decided not to investigate this matter further.
Minister for Education and Training
9 April 1996
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