Audit Office asked to investigate claims in Domm report

By John Maslin

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The Office of the Auditor-General has been asked to investigate some of the findings included in an independent report into Whanganui's failed wastewater treatment plant.

Former mayor Michael Laws has written to the Auditor-General asking for an investigation into some areas of the report prepared by Robert Domm and released last week.

Mr Laws said the report's findings include the conclusion that senior managers at the district council misled or otherwise misrepresented the facts to their governance teams.

"This led directly to the estimated loss of $27 million of ratepayer monies," he said.

"This is about as scandalous an allegation as scandals in local government in New Zealand get: the impact of that sum upon the Whanganui community will have repercussions for decades to come."

Mr Laws has asked the Auditor-General to investigate "this serious suggestion of public misfeasance"

Misfeasance in public office is a cause of action in the civil courts of England and some Commonwealth countries, alleging in essence that the office-holder has misused or abused their power.

Asked if he thought the Auditor-General's office would view the Domm report's findings seriously, Mr Laws said: "Absolutely."

And he said he was "stunned" at the lack of action and reaction from the council governance structure itself.

"Having personally requested an inquiry in early 2013, this council has since been very confused.

"They finally had an inquiry but put major areas off limits to the investigation especially around the MWH settlement.

"Now having received the inquiry's explosive findings, they want it all to go away," he said.

Mr Laws said the $27 million spent on the failed plant and recovery after that was "a scandal in anyone's books".

"If losing $27 million of public money isn't worthy of Audit Office investigation then nothing is."

Whanganui's mayor Annette Main said council would be sending the Auditor-General a copy of the Domm report.

"This will happen as a matter of course, given we have kept them completely informed since the failure, and will await their advice."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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