Audit Office confirms request to look into Domm report on wastewater failure

By John Maslin -
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Whanganui's decommissioned wastewater plant. PHOTO: PAUL DUNCAN
Whanganui's decommissioned wastewater plant. PHOTO: PAUL DUNCAN

The Audit Office has confirmed it has received a request to investigate some parts of the report into Whanganui's failed wastewater treatment plant.

The report was released last week and former mayor Michael Laws has wasted no time in contacting the Auditor-General asking for an investigation.

But Mr Laws isn't the only one supplying information to the Audit Office.

Mayor Annette Main confirmed yesterday that the council would be sending a copy of the Domm report "as a matter of course".

"We've kept them informed completely since the [plant] failure and will await their advice," Ms Main told the Chronicle.

"About as scandalous an allegation as scandals in local government in New Zealand get."
Michael Laws

Mr Laws said the report includes the conclusion that senior managers at the district council misled or otherwise misrepresented the facts to council which, he said, led directly to the estimated loss of $27 million of ratepayer monies.

He said the report's findings had uncovered "about as scandalous an allegation as scandals in local government in New Zealand get".

The review was carried out by Robert Domm and looked at the facts around the council's decision-making processes from 2003 to 2012. The plant was commissioned in 2007 but shut down five years later.

A spokesperson for the Auditor-General's office confirmed Mr Laws' request and the office "will consider it according to our normal process"

It's not only a request from a member of the public that could launch an inquiry into the Domm report. They can be initiated by the Auditor-General or in response to a request from an employee, a Member of Parliament, or another organisation.

But the spokesperson said no-one can make the Auditor-General investigate a matter.

"Our focus is on the way public entities use their resources, including financial, governance, management and organisational issues. The Auditor-General's office is not an avenue for resolving individual complaints or concerns about how a public entity has handled a particular matter," the spokesperson said.

The auditors will look to see if the matters raised suggest financial impropriety, problems with the governance or management, or other significant concerns that may be important for the organisation, the sector it operates in, or the general public.

The Auditor-General's staff will also consider how serious the issues are, whether it has the skills to consider them properly, or whether the issues may be better addressed through other avenues.

But there are limits. For example, it can't direct a public entity such as the district council to act on its findings or recommendations.

"And we cannot take on the judicial review function of the courts, by acting as a forum for detailed assessment of the legality of decision-making processes," the spokesperson said.

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