LETTER TO THE EDITOR
I was quite shocked to see the way our council handled the resolution about the general purpose financial report for the previous financial year. I am talking about the Ordinary Council Meeting of 25 August 2021. I wrote an Open Letter to NSW Auditor General about it. I then received an initial reply from a governance officer, NSW Audit Office, which includes some positive news when it says, “We use information received from members of the public to inform our financial audit work and accordingly I have passed your correspondence to the Director responsible for the audit of the MidCoast Council for consideration.” I currently await a further response to a second letter I sent to the Auditor General.
In the meantime here is the text of my first letter which refers to a matter in, and of, the public interest. It contains reference to what I understand to be the relevant legislation, an open council meeting and publicly accessible audio recording of that council meeting.
Open Letter about MidCoast Council [to NSW Auditor General]
I am writing to alert you that, when you receive MidCoast Council’s financial reports for the 2020-2021 year, you will be receiving something that had not been provided to the MidCoast councillors for sighting and examination at council’s Ordinary Meeting of 25 August 2021. It was at that meeting that Council resolved to authorise the signing of the certifying statement that must accompany the conveyance of the general purpose report to the Audit Office.
As you would be aware, section 413(2) of the Local Government Act 1993 requires such a certifying statement and clause 215(1) of the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005 sets out the details to be included in such statement. Section 413 clearly specifies that the statement is about Council’s “opinion on the general purpose report” and the consequential clause 215 requires the certifying statement to “be made by resolution of council”.
Given that the councillors, when they made the necessary resolution, had not sighted or examined the relevant material, the bona fides of the statement you receive, on foot of the 25 August council resolution, is either substantially questionable or lacking.
You may confirm for yourself what transpired at that council meeting by listening to the meeting https://www.midcoast.nsw.gov.au/files/assets/public/document-resources/council-meetings/agenda-and-minutes/2021/2508-ordinary-meeting/council-meeting-audio-25-8-21.mp3 – the relevant portion commences at about 3 hours and 4 minutes and finishes at about 3 hours and 36 minutes. You will hear that only two councillors opposed the move to refer the reports to the Audit Office in such a questionable manner – these being Councillor Bell and Councillor Epov who queried how a councillor might have an opinion on a financial report without having seen it.
I do not know to what extent it is within your scope to rectify this matter or to refer it to another review authority.. However I note that your vision statement says, “Our insights inform and challenge government to improve outcomes for citizens” and I hope that you might be able to offer MidCoast Council some insights to challenge it to improve its understanding and performance regarding financial governance on behalf of the community.
[Harrington NSW 2427]
P.S. for MCN readers: the certifying statement which must accompany a general purpose financial report needs to be based on a pro forma found at page 8 of the “Local Government Code of Accounting Practice and Financial Reporting – Section 1”. The form contains an attestation starting with the words “to the best of our knowledge and belief”…