A Victorian inquiry has found evidence of process corruption, improper diversion of funds, conflict of interest and mismanagement at senior levels of the state’s education department.
The special report of IBAC’s Operation Dunham into the Ultranet project was tabled in parliament today as the process moves from investigation into the prosecutorial phase.
Beginning with a dodgy tender process, and ultimately wasting between $127 million to $240 million in public money, the failed Ultranet project was cancelled in 2014 after a damning audit, and has served as an integrity wake-up call for the Victorian Public Sector.
Ultranet was to be an online teaching and learning platform.
The investigation by IBAC attracted considerable attention — it was only the fourth corruption inquiry in Victoria to hold public hearings — covered here by The Mandarin.
Since those hearings, major VPS-wide integrity reforms have been announced and the new secretary of the Department of Education and Training, Gill Callister has led the mandarins’ charge for equipping the lessons from what happened and restoring morale.
IBAC Commissioner Stephen O’Bryan QC highlighted the significance of the inquiry today:
“The Victorian community invests considerable trust in public sector employees ensuring limited resources are used in a proper manner for the benefit of all Victorians. Taken singly, many of the actions and behaviours by these public servants would be of concern. Taken together, they show a disturbing pattern of improper behaviour.”
O’Bryan says behaviours identified by IBAC include the inappropriate receipt of hospitality and travel; improper communications intended to influence the tender process; and a likely attempt to influence the tender outcome by ‘stacking’ an evaluation panel. IBAC also found decisions contrary to proper procurement process, in particular singular preference for a particular bidder, despite serious concerns about its credentials.
The IBAC investigation also revealed almost one million dollars was improperly paid to an external company in an attempt to prop up the Ultranet project. There was also evidence some senior departmental officers used confidential information about the project to purchase shares, and misled the department about those purchases.