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May 16, 2021

Council staff accepted gifts: ICAC

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Two former staffers at Byron and Ballina councils engaged in corrupt conduct by accepting gifts from suppliers in return for increased orders and sales, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) said in a report released this week.

ICAC has made corrupt conduct findings against 41 people, including 22 staff or former staff of 14 councils and 15 employees of supplier companies, in its report on an investigation into allegations that staff from a number of local councils and other public authorities accepted secret benefits from suppliers and that staff from two local councils facilitated payment of false invoices from suppliers

One of those is former Ballina Shire Council employee Glen Lapham, who during his stint there between 2009-2011 was identified as having accepted personal gifts including an iPhone, camcorder, DVD sets and a barbecue worth $3,572 from a council cleaning and chemical supplier, NCH Australia Pty Ltd.

ICAC says that Mr Lapham requested several of the gifts be sent to his home address, in contravention of his council’s code of conduct.

Mr Lapham was recommended for prosecution by ICAC for giving misleading evidence to ICAC and hindering the commission in its work. NCH general manager Peter La-Vite, sales rep Jacqueline Verdeyen, who authorised the gifts, and several other NCH salespeople were also found to have engaged in corrupt conduct.

The report says former Byron Shire Council employee Robert Vagne was given five $100 gift vouchers by salespeople from R&R Tape Supplies between March 2008 and january 2010.

One of the salesmen told ICAC investigators that he provided the gift vouchers to persuade buyers to place orders with his company, or sometimes to place bigger orders than they would otherwise have done, as well as to encourage repeat business.

The salesman, Martin Slade, said the gift vouchers were often sent to the home addresses of the public officials responsible for placing orders with the company in order to keep the matter secret from the public official’s employer.

ICAC found Mr Slade had engaged in corrupt conduct by carrying out the incentive scheme.

Byron Council’s acting general manager, Ray Darney, said in December 2010 council informed ICAC of its concerns ‘as a result of alleged incidents relating to staff misconduct’.

Mr Darney said as a result of council’s investigation, two staff members were sacked and three staff were the subject of disciplinary action.

He said Mr Vagne resigned before council’s investigation had concluded.

‘While the degree to which the staff member named in the ICAC report personally benefited from the misconduct was relatively minor, it was not acceptable behaviour,’ Mr Darney said.

‘It was disappointing to have had staff members involved in this type of misconduct.  However, the investigation resulted in number of policy and process improvements at Byron Shire Council and they were accepted by ICAC.’

Mr Darney said the investigation also revealed that even though Council had substantial procedures in place and provided information and training ‘some staff were still tempted by the unsolicited offers’.

He noted that criminal charges against Mr Vagne were not recommended.

The report says evidence suggested corrupt conduct by employees at Bathurst Regional Council and Yass Valley Council ‘may have cost the two councils involved in those rorts a combined total of over $1.5 million’.

The report says that from the outset of the ICAC investigation, ‘it became apparent that the provision of incentives by businesses to public officials in NSW was widespread’.

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