G-MW expense payments criticised

By Geoff Adams

Goulburn-Murray Water’s former managing director Pat Lennon claimed more than $20000 in payments and reimbursements he was not entitled to, a report by the Victorian Ombudsman has found.

The report also found G-MW’s former chair Jo Anderson, who approved many of the claims, had exceeded her authority.

The finding is the latest bombshell to hit the rural water authority, after a succession of managing directors and board changes over the past 10 years.

An obviously irritated Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville told reporters outside the Tatura G-MW office last week the board was now seeking advice on how to get the money back.

‘‘What the ombudsman has made clear is that really this is about two individuals that really did break the rules,’’ Ms Neville said, after speaking to senior staff.

‘‘They knew the rules, the rules were there. They didn’t like the rules and when the rules didn’t work in their advantage, they changed contracts in order to get that personal benefit for the MD (managing director),’’ she said.

The ombudsman’s report said: ‘‘The MD and the chair demonstrated a lack of restraint and accountability in spending public funds; and in the context of the hardships being felt in the Goulburn Murray region, this conduct is even more egregious.’’

Mr Lennon was paid a total salary of $384000 and, since starting in the job, had claimed more than $40000 in expenses from G-MW (including relocation); received the benefit of nearly $9000 of accommodation to assist with his relocation; and received nearly $25000 of his salary as a tax-free living-away-from-home allowance.

The ombudsman found the chair’s approval of many of the claims was not reasonable.

‘‘She failed to confirm the business need for the expenditure, ignored advice from staff and did not hold the managing director accountable to the conditions of his contract,’’ the report said.

In response to the draft report, the chair’s legal representative said Ms Anderson ‘‘did confirm the business needs for the expenditure’’.

Mr Lennon’s legal representative said in response to the draft report: ‘‘At all material times, as is evidenced from his interview and these submissions, Mr Lennon has acted in the best interests of G-MW and not sought to obtain advantage for himself or to cause detriment to G-MW.’’