Departments keep lid on inquiries into missing $100m

Industry consultant Ray Pitch reckons that during the past three years $100 million has been sunk by government agencies into projects that have never seen the light of day. But he can't confirm it because of obstructive tactics by the public sector. Computerworld has the same problem. In May, we asked under the Official Information Act for all government departments and agencies to provide details of their capital expenditure over the past five years on major projects, the benefits expected to be achieved and whether they were actually achieved. We're still waiting.

Industry consultant Ray Pitch reckons that during the past three years $100 million has been sunk by government agencies into projects that have never seen the light of day.

But he can’t confirm it because of obstructive tactics by the public sector.

Computerworld has the same problem. In May, we asked under the Official Information Act for all government departments and agencies to provide details of their capital expenditure over the past five years on major projects, the benefits expected to be achieved and whether they were actually achieved.

Within weeks, the government was seeking the same information from its departments, to be coordinated through the State Services Commission.

Computerworld was told that information would be available in July. But the commission felt this was a difficult task and hired Pohlen and Robinson, a Wellington consultancy, to do what was essentially a stock take, using a uniform methodology.

The State Services Commission said the information would be available in September: it wasn’t, and the commission was not then prepared to name a delivery date, other than to say it would happen before Christmas.

In the wake of a letter sent to Computerworld by Pitch — an experienced consultant and former IS manager for Foodtown —Computerworld telephoned the commission last week to try to get an update. The call was not returned.

Earlier, Helen Meehan, who is managing the exercise for the commission, had said the data needed to be checked.

Computerworld understands that the Pohlen and Robinson survey was in the hands of the commission in August.

One senior IT manager at a large govern-ment department has commented that it was a simple exercise to fill in the forms. Perhaps others don’t find it so simple. Why?

Meehan also commented in September that when the results were made public they would be released by individual ministers.

This whole charade smacks of a cover-up. It will come as no surprise when the results are made public that, other than the well-publicised project failures, there is no real problem in government IT spending.

If, as we believe, the results of the Pohlen and Robinson survey have been in the hands of the commission for some months, the only possible interpretation that can be put on the delay in making them public is that there is some fancy work being done in the background to justify bad decisions.

Failure to be up front with the results means that when they are finally made public they will lack credibility.

Under the Official Information Act, public bodies are supposed to respond within 20 days. Computerworld accepts that this was a request that would require more time. But nearly six months later we — and, more importantly, the taxpayer — are as much in the dark as we were back in May.

Accordingly, we are writing to the Ombudsman to try to force some compliance with what we regard as a reasonable request.

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