CAALAS: Questions about travel money, credit card

p2219-CAALAS-Haasts-BluffBy ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Serious questions about travel allowances for board members and the use of a credit card by former CEO Pat Miller will cast a shadow over tomorrow’s AGM of the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS).

 

These issues were brought to light in a report ordered by the Federal Attorney General’s Department (AGD – which examined all Australian Aboriginal legal aid services), the major funding body of CAALAS.

 

The inquiry found no problems with the provision of legal services , says Principal Legal Officer Mark O’Reilly who is also acting as CEO following the controversial departure of Ms Miller (see earlier Alice Springs News Online reports).

 

Mr O’Reilly fielded questions today:-

 

REPORT: Travel payments of more than $70,000 over three years to board members could not be demonstrated as “being relevant to CAALAS’s affairs”. The service needs to ensure that board member travel is necessary to facilitate and further the delivery of the organisation’s services. There were potential duplicate payments (where board members have been paid an allowance and also had their accommodation costs paid directly). Refunds should be made, where applicable. There were no records of prior approval for travel payments. There was no supporting detailed documentation for any of the 27 travel expenses tested (the report involved “sampling transactions and selected reports rather than looking at all information that may exist”).

 

CAALAS: We are working with McGrath Nichol and the AGD to set up compliant processes.

 

REPORT: Staff loans are a poor practice – including one self-approved by former CEO Pat Miller.

 

CAALAS: This has now been addressed by the board, disallowing the practice.

 

REPORT: Some credit card expenses by Ms Miller “do not appear to have been incurred in carrying out the services for which Commonwealth funding has been approved”. They included “travel and rent expenses relating to individuals who do not appear to be CAALAS employees or the transaction is of an unidentified nature” and “what appear to be personal expenses, e.g. jewellery, luggage merchandise”.

 

CAALAS: This was a concern in the report. We’re working with McGrath Nicol to provide a response. We’re continuing to resolve the issues. Practices have now been implemented to ensure proper accountability.

 

REPORT: Personnel files for Ms Miller and her son, Allan, the Administration Manager, could not be found.

 

CAALAS: These files were not available when the “health check” was made but they were and are in CAALAS’s possession, and there was no concern about how the file system was managed.

 

REPORT: No accurate records and accounts (including service contracts, receipts, proof of purchases and invoices) were kept for a wide range of transactions.

 

CAALAS: Nothing suggests the systemic misuse of funds. Revised new practices are now in place, assisted by an accountant. There were concerns but no major issues.

 

REPORT: It appears that the board is lacking some key skills that would assist in effectively governing the organisation. Meeting minutes are inadequate, there was little record of financial matters, the chairperson was stood down, the board failed to ensure the CEO “effectively managed the financial administration of CAALAS”.

 

p2219-CAALAS-AreyongaCAALAS: The board is the representative of the local Aboriginal community. The constitution allows bringing in outside consultants in areas of expertise. Of course there is ready access to legal advice. There is ongoing governance training. Members have their individual expertise.

 

Says Mr O’Reilly: “The reason for our existence s to provide legal services and we do that well. In order to do that we need to have effective operation procedures including financial controls, and overwhelmingly we do.”

 

CAALAS has 40 employees and an annual budget of about $6m. Asked what the cost of the services provided would be if charged at the Supreme Court scale, Mr O’Reilly said this had not been calculated but it would be a great deal more.

 

The constitution requires that four of the eight board members resign tomorrow, but they can nominate for re-election.

 

The AGM will also vote on a new constitution, drafted in the wake of the AGD report, about which the News is reporting exclusively.

 

The new board will go in search of a new CEO, and the report urged the organisation should appoint “a strong Chairperson with experience in leading a similar scale organisation”.

 

IMAGES from CAALAS annual report: Taking the law bush at Haasts Bluff (top) and Areyonga (above).

 

 

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12 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Concerned Local
    Posted March 10, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    Who is now on the board? Unfortunately I missed the AGM as I was out of town and wasn’t allowed to submit a proxy vote!

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  2. Will
    Posted March 10, 2015 at 10:22 am

    @ Elvis: You are not adding to the debate. You are just telling us what has occurred. Nothing is going to happen. It never does. It’s a non-event, as was the AGM.

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  3. Elvis
    Posted March 10, 2015 at 6:53 am

    Involvement of the Deputy Administrator of the Northern Territory. Forensic auditors engaged looking at inappropriate spending (personal loans,credit card usage, travelling equipment). Nepotism with the employing procedure, the expected removal of the organisation’s control and people like Will say “there is nothing to see here, move on!”

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  4. The Drum
    Posted March 9, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    Jimmy Jam, you’re right about board hoppers. The CAALAS board should only allow for board members who are not attached elsewhere to other Aboriginal Organizations boards in the Territory. CAALAS is a Legal entity and should be impartial in its board structure. The people on these boards and the current CAALAS board are professional board sitters with no other objective but to simply cash in. They must be very articulate in all areas of corporation business as they sit on a lot of boards and make big decisions. 🙂

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  5. Will
    Posted March 9, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    Sometimes the truth is not as interesting as the rumour mongers portray.
    I am afraid it is a case of: “Move along people, nothing to see here.”

    View Comment
  6. Elvis
    Posted March 9, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    Will, I thought you were going to offer the readers and myself an insight to another VERSION.

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  7. Will
    Posted March 9, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    Well if you had attended the AGM you would have found out that there is a new board and the Acting CEO has everything under control with the bean counters – according to them.
    The fact is our people are still being incarcerated at an extreme rate, being told to plead guilty all the time, on remand for lengthy periods, poor behaviour of non Aboriginal professional staff. No new CEO recruitment process yet? But hey, its all OK as far as they report.
    The new chairperson had quite a significant role in the past management and has a lot to do in the future. I watch with interest.
    I agree with you “shame on those who were involved”. I remind you that they are still current board members and current employees.

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  8. Elvis
    Posted March 9, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Well, Will, what’s the OTHER version ?

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  9. Will
    Posted March 9, 2015 at 8:24 am

    @ Elvis: Sounds like your well informed Elvis.
    It’s a shame you have only heard one version.

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  10. Elvis
    Posted March 8, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    The previous chairman signed everything that the retired CEO gave him.
    The previous chairman was stood down as he was not consulting with the board when putting pen to paper.
    The previous chairman was in direct consultation with the retired CEO about signing off on matters regarding employment and range of other unacceptable, operational matters.
    The board had no choice but to cease this bad unprofessional practice that was taking place and the behaviour did become habitual. The retired CEO was on sick leave for almost three months, strangely as paper trails were beginning to be found of inappropriate practices.
    The facts are these: Central Australia have an Aboriginal Legal Service that has been mismanaged! Forensic Auditors have been activated from the Attorney General’s office (Commonwealth).
    Now CAALAS will be left with no direction and control of a legal firm that Aboriginal people of Central Australia once had.
    The bean counters cannot watch and see a service that has been representing Aboriginal people for a long, long time on problems that are a part of an Aboriginal person’s life in Central Australia, because of the Aboriginal people whom the community put faith in and trusted, totally became arrogant and complacent to the whole purpose of what they were employed to do.
    There will be no CAALAS next year and the representation from Central Australia will be quite minimal on a service that will be controlled and managed from Darwin. Shame to those who were involved in this behaviour!

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  11. Jimmy Jam
    Posted March 6, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    The Board is looking to place the entire blame on the ex-CEO. Does anyone know how much each Board member is paid for “sitting fees”?
    Does anyone know about the board-hoppers that are present on the Board?
    They have already caused trouble at other boards, and now doing the same thing in this case. Look up the names, and cross-reference to other Aboriginal organisation boards … same people, same problems, same trouble-makers.

    View Comment
  12. Elvis
    Posted March 5, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    The surface is just being revealed, there is a whole lot more to come yet.

    View Comment

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