ICAC investigates AU$1.6m awarded by Sydney Uni IT department

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption has began its inquiry into the actions of former head of IT projects at Sydney University, alleging that he awarded contracts dishonestly and pocketed AU$29,000 of unaccountable funds as a result.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) began its inquiry on Monday morning into the actions undertaken by the former head of projects in the IT department at Sydney University, Jason Meeth.

According to Warwick Hunt, counsel assisting the commission, whilst under the university's employ, Meeth proactively advocated the university's use of Canberra Solutions, despite it not being a NSW government-accredited C100 company, which is a requirement under the university's direction for the recruitment of IT contractors.

It is also alleged Meeth profited AU$29,000 dishonestly from contracts he awarded to Canberra Solutions.

Hunt said the primary focus of the inquiry is whether Meeth engaged in a course of activity on behalf of the university that was partial in terms of his dealings with Canberra Solutions and Balu Moothedath, highlighted as the "real principal" of the company, as well as its sole director Sonata Devedas.

It has been highlighted by ICAC that Meeth knew Moothedath prior to his employment at Sydney University.

Hunt said during February 2012 and July 2013, nine Canberra Solutions candidates were employed by the university, and that in excess of AU$1.6 million was paid by the university to Canberra Solutions in the 18 months ending January 2014.

"If Meeth knowingly engaged in the conduct that has been alleged against him, he was at very least in breach of university policies in failing to disclose a conflict or potential conflict of interest to his employer," Hunt said.

Since his appointment, Meeth allegedly contracted, in a roundabout way, staff from Canberra Solutions, despite the correct vetting and hiring procedures not being completed, ICAC heard.

The usual contracting process for Sydney University IT roles would start with contacting C100 accredited companies and requesting up to three quotes for candidates in relation to the advertised position. Then, the C100 companies would source suitable candidates for Meeth to consider, on behalf of the university. Sydney University would then, according to Hunt, perform a rigorous review process, and, if successfully appointed, the C100 company which put the contractor forward would receive 10 percent of the payment, and the balance to the contractor.

At the core of the inquiry, it is alleged Meeth contacted C100 companies and recommended the services of Canberra Solutions, giving them Moothedath's contact details. Moothedath was then reportedly contacted, and as a result, Meeth would receive resumes of contractors which were recommended by Moothedath initially.

The inquiry will investigate how this practice led to the contracting of Canberra Solutions affiliated contractors.

Additionally, Hunt said a former contractor Anuradha Batra will testify this week that she was paid a non-negotiable daily rate of AU$290, which Hunt highlighted was inconsistent with the AU$750 per day awarded by the contract between the university and Greythorn, the C100 company that proposed Batra at the behest of Canberra Solutions.

Hunt said during the time in question, the university had a number of policies that governed employment responsibilities, procurement, and expenditure of money. He said these polices have since been altered in line with previous recommendations made by ICAC.

Hunt said as the university has tens of thousands of external suppliers in any given year, close scrutiny of each and every contract is almost an impossibility, adding that this inquiry is not seeking to challenge the university's use of contractors; however Hunt hopes to examine if procurement practices under existing university policies contributed to any corrupt conduct.

"With such delegation comes an institutional trust that duties are acquitted lawfully and in compliance with the university's published policies and protocols," Hunt said. "Officials who are able to spend public funds pursuant to delegated authority are obliged to spend that money pursuant to impartial dealing and without corrupt motives."

In 2012, ICAC made seven recommendations to the university under Operation Citrus which included the university use the services of multiple C100 companies in competition to recruit IT contractors.

Additionally, Hunt said evidence suggests there was failing by management more senior than Meeth to identify policies were being breached.

The inquiry is set down for five days, and will be presided over by ICAC Commissioner Megan Latham in Sydney.

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