CIT CEO Leanne Cover temporarily steps aside as ACT Integrity Commission announces investigation into consultancy contracts

The chief executive of the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) has agreed to leave until an investigation into the latest in a series of controversial consultancy contracts has been completed.

Earlier this month, the ABC revealed that since 2018, CIT had awarded four contracts, worth about $ 8.5 million, to two businesses, Think Garden and Redrouge Nominees Pty Ltd, both owned by mountaineer Patrick Hollingworth.

The latest contract, signed with Think Garden in March, was worth $ 5 million and is subject to an internal audit commissioned by the CIT board.

On Thursday evening, it was revealed that CEO Leanne Cover, who conducted all of the contracts for the procurement processes, had been directed to leave until an independent investigation was completed.

In a statement, CIT board chairman Craig Sloan said Ms Cover had agreed to stand aside temporarily and that the board would also be conducting a performance appraisal of the CEO.

The contracts were suspended last week after it was revealed that CIT ignored multiple warnings from government officials.

ACT Integrity Commission investigates four CIT contracts

A woman with a blue shirt wearing a white jacket smiles at the camera
CIT history said it was within Leanne Cover’s powers as CEO to undertake procurement processes without involvement of the board.(TAFE Directors Australia)

Earlier on Thursday afternoon, the ACT Integrity Commission announced it would award four contracts awarded by CIT to Mr Hollingworth’s companies.

This is the first time since its inception that the ACT Integrity Commission has publicly confirmed a decision to investigate a matter. But Integrity Commissioner Michael Adams said that would not become standard practice.

“This minimizes the risk of the investigation, or indeed the safety and reputation of witnesses and the interest of other persons, being compromised.

“Investigations about public announcements will only be made where there are substantial countervailing reasons for doing so.”

Commissioner Adams said in this instance, the recent discussion of the contract in the media and the ACT Legislative Assembly had made it “desirable” to announce the Integrity Commission’s decision to investigate.

“It also provides an opportunity for any person or entity to request information pertaining to the Commission’s investigation report to provide their information to the Commission as soon as possible,” he said.

Decision welcomed by government and opposition

A man with orange hair and a beard smiles looking to the side
Firms owned by Patrick Hollingworth, a mountaineer and public speaker, has won approximately $ 8.5 million worth of CIT contracts.(Celebrity Speakers)

The decision by the Integrity Commission to investigate the series of contracts was welcomed by ACT Skills Minister Chris Steel, the Canberra Liberals and the ACT Greens.

Mr Steel had a written letter to the CIT board’s chair to express his concerns over the contract and ask the board to explain what the jargon used in the tenders actually meant.

“We really welcome these independent reviews into these matters, which will get to the bottom of what happened and whether these contracts are value for money, what they will deliver, and why they were undertaken,” he said.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said she hoped the investigation would result in a result that was “in the best interests of the staff, students and the CIT going forward.”

“Many Canberrans are rightly concerned about these contracts, and I welcome the Integrity Commissioner’s decision to undertake an investigation into this issue,” she said.

“It’s really important for governments to have an independent oversight function, which is exactly why the Greens campaigned for so long for an Integrity Commission and it’s good to see it in action.”

The ABC has contacted Mr Hollingworth for comment on many occasions. He has not responded.

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