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 take leave until an investigation into the latest in a series of controversial consultancy contracts is completed.

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

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

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

In a statement, CIT board chairman Craig Sloan, said Ms Cover had agreed to temporarily stand aside 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 to investigate four CIT contracts

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

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

It 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 minimises the risk of the investigation, or indeed the safety and reputation of witnesses and other persons of interest, being compromised.

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

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

“It also provides an opportunity to request any person or entity with 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, have won almost $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 previously written to the CIT board’s chair, to express his concerns over the contracts and ask the board to explain what jargon used in the tenders actually meant.

“We really welcome these independent reviews into these matters, which will get to the bottom of what’s occurred 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 an outcome 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 is 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 is 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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