29.06.2017

TAFE executive personally approved baseless qualification, IBAC hears


A former TAFE executive managed the contract now being investigated by Victoria’s corruption watchdog on his own and personally intervened to ensure the trainer was given a qualification, the second day of public examinations has heard.

The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission is looking into deals between two TAFEs and the private training organisation Taytell, which received around $2.2 million in public funding, amid claims of people being enrolled by Taytell without their knowledge, and training not being delivered.

The inquiry heard yesterday that Maurice Molan, then-executive manager of business at South West TAFE, handled the contract with Taytell himself. He also decided there was no reason for the contract with Taytell, signed five months after the company claims it had started delivering training, should be reviewed independently before being signed.

Taytell was paid $1.8 million by South West TAFE to deliver hundreds of thousands of hours’ training for employees of utility company Zinfra.

But the 129 Zinfra employees were not aware they were enrolled in a Certificate IV in Engineering, which requires around 1400 hours to complete, the inquiry heard. Instead, their details were collected when Rebecca Taylor, owner of Taytell, asked them to partially fill out the enrolment forms while they were receiving a few hours of training in Lean Six Sigma, said South West TAFE audit and compliance officer Shannyn Carter.

Despite Taytell invoicing the TAFE for nearly 200,000 hours of teaching time, “no such training” was delivered, the inquiry heard.

Five or six other people — family members and a friend of Rebecca Taylor — were also enrolled as Zinfra employees, said Carter. Some of these were working for Taytell as trainers in the Certificate IV while they were enrolled in it. One of these, Taylor’s daughter, was enrolled as a student under her mother’s surname while being listed as a trainer under her married surname.

Taylor was delivering training and assessment from February 2013, despite the fact that it was not until September that her own qualification was issued. A review had previously found her not to be competent to attain the qualification, but she was awarded the certificate after Molan accessed the TAFE’s online system to approve it. It was rescinded after Molan’s actions were discovered eight months later and a second review again found Taylor not to be qualified.

The examination also heard that Molan took extended sick leave while an independent audit of the contract was being undertaken. He returned the day the audit was published, only to go on leave again soon after. He was eventually fired for “gross misconduct” for “issuing certificates to someone who wasn’t qualified”, said South West TAFE CEO Mark Fidge, who was chief financial officer at the time.

Molan and Taylor had a “personal and professional” relationship reaching back some years, the inquiry heard.

The financial split in the agreement between the TAFE and Taytell was unusual, said Fidge, with Taytell receiving 80% of the funds from the Department of Education and Training, rather than the usual 70%. The TAFE typically kept the other 30% to pay for administrative and oversight purposes, he explained, but Molan assured his colleagues Taytell would do all the work itself.

Unlike with other such contracts, there was no substantive oversight of Taytell’s activities on behalf of the TAFE until they were audited.

There were no policies, procedures or other resources in place at the time to provide for due diligence and support the establishment of third-party education contracts, or for the monitoring and management of such agreements, counsel assisting Ian Hill QC noted.

The TAFE ceased entering into third-party contracts after the details of what had occurred came to light. “This really reduces the risk of false information being presented to the TAFE,” Carter said.

The TAFE has not yet been able to recover the funds.

The inquiry is continuing, with Maurice Molan to appear on Thursday, as well as former South West TAFE CEO Peter Heilbuth, and Jane Ponting, who acted in Molan’s role while he was on leave.