The Citifleet warning

The Citifleet scandal at the Dunedin City Council is a clear warning for other organisations and businesses.

It would appear the proceeds from cars valued together at $1.5 million are involved and the alleged wrongdoing is now thought to stretch back beyond 10 years and the last Citifleet manager.

It remains surprising that in a city as small as Dunedin an alleged fraud of this magnitude could go on for so long.

Were rumours insufficient for key people to take action? Are we too trusting?

Were systems really that inadequate? How much can be put down to slackness and a she'll-be-right attitude?

It also seems established practices become ingrained and accepted all too easily.

Most newcomers are soon inculcated with the culture and practices of the new setting, even if some of these are suspect or inappropriate.

At least, it appears the chief executive Sue Bidrose has been taking decisive action.

She has generally responded to questions on the matter when she has been able to, and the council seems determined there will not be a repeat.

It has finally followed Audit Office advice and set up an audit committee, and no doubt staff will be on guard for other possible dodgy dealings.

The danger is, however, that system checks and balances become too expensive and stifle initiative.

In the aftermath of failings, it is important not to swing too far in the other direction.

The parade of senior staff falling on their swords has been a sight to behold.

Managers up the line from Citifleet, each of them respected and not linked to the alleged fraud itself, have admitted their failings in not picking up on the matter.

Given New Zealand's employment laws, some could easily have held on and avowed some of their responsibilities.

While we have seen plenty of examples of this in Government, council managers, refreshingly, have taken falling down on their tasks seriously.

It does not help the Citifleet debacle follows the $16.9 million Dunedin health board fraud. In that case there was plenty of talk and rumour about Dunedin Hospital and beyond but far too long before action was taken.

People perhaps were either taken in by Michael Swann's stories and charm, afraid of crossing him, or thought their suspicions were none of their business.

The last thing organisations need are careers undermined by false aspersions and an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion.

There do, though, need to be ways concerns can be raised and fairly and dispassionately checked out.

Maybe, too, internal and external auditors - while recognising they are more backstops and advisers on systems than examiners of nitty gritty - should have better antenna to pick up discrepancies and doubts.

A lesson from the Citifleet saga is that staff at all levels, while remaining positive, helpful and co-operative, do need a degree of scepticism about what goes on around them.

And if something does not seem right, it needs to be queried and, if necessary, investigated.

That can apply to the relatively low-level and small staff theft or malfeasance to corruption and wrongdoing on a large scale.

And another thingIT is heartening to see a Dunedin developer has bought the four-storey 90-year-old Bell Tea building on the corner of Hope and Carroll Sts and vowed to ''save'' it.

Peter Gullen has not revealed his plans for the building, but apartments, industrial or office space could all be options. His priority is earthquake-strengthening the building as that forced its closure earlier this year.

It is certainly encouraging that another local developer is prepared to foot the bill to preserve a distinctive piece of the city's heritage.

It is to be hoped his plans go more smoothly than those for Russell Lund's restoration and apartment conversion of the Loan and Mercantile building.

That proposal is complicated by the fact it is in the wharf area and has been opposed by neighbouring industrial businesses.

The council hearing into Mr Lund's consent application resumes this month.

 

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