Sydney Night Patrol and Inquiry (SNP) and S International Group (SIG), the contractor and subcontractor responsible for campus security at the University of Sydney, have become embroiled in an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigation and public inquiry over decade-old allegations of corrupt conduct, including falsified timesheets and possible bribery, fraud and offences under the Security Industry Regulation.
The allegations include the practice of “payroll ghosting,” a process which involves an employee claiming hours they have otherwise not performed, often through the creation of fake employees created by payroll, or using the details of existing employees who are on leave or not available.
Ad hoc shifts claimed using the security licence details of ghost guards amounted to $121,239 over 4 weeks, including a period in which the Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) was occupied in 2016.
“While the percentages just referred to for the four weekly periods the focus of this investigation cannot necessarily be applied across a broader period, the evidence shows that the fraud was perpetrated opportunistically on a weekly basis from at least August 2016 to April 2018,” the Commission was told by Counsel Assisting the Commission, Phillip English, in his opening address.
Six witnesses, including senior staff in SNP and SIG are testifying before Commissioner Stephen Rushton SC in the first week of hearings.
The NSW anti-corruption body has the power to make factual findings and form opinions on further action, including requesting the opinion of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) as to prosecution of a person for a specified criminal offence.
The University’s agreement with SNP prohibited the subcontracting of security services. However, the failure of the University to inquire into the legality of the chargeable hourly security guard rate of SNP and the limited day-to-day head counts of staffing combined to create appreciable security vulnerabilities and risks at the University. These vulnerabilities were then inflamed by an “absence of rigour and probity” by the University in relation to ongoing contract management.
“We are currently tendering for a number of our operational services including security. After becoming aware of the ICAC investigation we reduced the services provided by SNP. These are now provided by other contractors, while the tender process is completed,” a University spokesperson told Honi.
The investigation comes despite a warning in a report by consultancy firm KPMG in July 2016 which advised of risks in the University’s rostering system and the existence of practices to circumvent payment of overtime allowances to SNP staff resulting in non-compliance with the relevant enterprise agreement.
Since 2009, SNP has been the primary security contractor at the University under a contract valued at $30 million across its life.
In 2015, the University renewed a five year contract with SNP for the exclusive supply of all security guard and patrol functions. According to the University’s Contracts Register, this contract will continue until the end of 2021. At this point, it remains unclear whether the University will terminate its agreement with SNP.
University contractors and staff have been involved in five publicly-reported ICAC investigations over the last decade, with some involving the dishonest acquisition of public funds for private financial benefit.
In 2012, SNP was the subject of allegations that a staff member at the University of New England (UNE) had solicited and received benefits for himself in exchange for improperly favouring SNP in the awarding of UNE contracts. The SNP employee was subsequently sentenced to a $1,000 fine.
More to come.