CIT CEO Leanne Cover Steps Down Temporarily as ACT Integrity Commission Announces Investigation into Consulting Contracts

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

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

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

It was announced Thursday evening that CEO Leanne Cover, who was responsible for the procurement processes for all contracts, had been instructed to take a leave of absence until the independent investigation was completed.

In a statement, CIT board chairman Craig Sloan said Ms. Cover had agreed to sit on the sidelines temporarily and that the board would also conduct a performance review of the CEO.

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

ACT Integrity Committee Investigates Four CIT Contracts

A woman in a blue shirt in a white jacket smiles at the camera
CIT previously said it was within Leanne Cover’s remit as CEO to conduct procurement processes without board involvement.TAFE Directors Australia

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

It is the first time since its inception that the ACT Integrity Committee has publicly confirmed a decision to investigate a case. But Integrity Commissioner Michael Adams said that wouldn’t become standard practice.

“This minimizes the risk of compromising the investigation, or even the safety and reputation of witnesses and other persons of interest.

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

Commissioner Adams said that in this case, recent discussion of the contracts in the media and the ACT Legislative Assembly had made it “desirable” to announce the Integrity Committee’s decision to open an investigation.

“It also provides an opportunity to request any person or entity with information about the commission’s investigative report to provide their information to the commission as soon as possible,” he said.

Decision welcomed by government and opposition

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Companies owned by Patrick Hollingworth, a mountaineer and public speaker, have won nearly $8.5 million in cash transport contracts.Celebrity Speakers

The Integrity Committee’s decision to examine 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 chairman of the CIT board to express his concerns about the contracts and to ask the board to explain what the jargon in the tenders actually meant.

“We are very pleased to have these independent reviews in these matters, who will get to the bottom of what happened and whether these contracts are value for money, what they will deliver and why they were entered into,” he said.

Opposition leader Elizabeth Lee said she hoped the investigation would lead to an outcome that “is in the best interests of staff, students and CIT going forward”.

“Many Canberrans are rightly concerned about these contracts and I welcome the Integrity Commissioner’s decision to investigate this matter,” she said.

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

The ABC has contacted Mr Hollingworth on many occasions for comment. He hasn’t responded.

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