Waste program audited: Local solicitor says compost grant stinks

A BUNGENDORE man has subpoenaed documents from Queanbeyan City Council and has laid private criminal charges against a number of local government officials over a waste management program he claims was fraudulently managed.

Queanbeyan City Council was one of four local government areas- along with Palerang, Goulburn Mulwaree and the former Lachlan Council- taking part in the City to Soil (or Groundswell) program, aimed at taking organic waste out of general rubbish collection and converting it to compost.

But Allan Powell, a Bungendore bookshop owner and former solicitor, says the program's steering committee misused some of its $1.96 million state government grant by allocating contracts and consultancies to friends, aided by other contacts within the Environmental Trust.

The Department of Environment has since conducted its own internal audit of the program, which identified "a potential corruption risk," but said there was no evidence of maladministration (see separate story, page 3). The Department referred its findings to the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC).

Mr Powell has taken the unusual step of lodging private criminal proceedings against senior local government officials from Goulburn, Palerang and Queanbeyan, although he is yet to provide evidence to substantiate the charges.

He told The Queanbeyan Age he was shocked to discover no evidence of the program being run in his area, despite it having received nearly $2 million in funding.

"I was just zipping on the internet and I found somebody saying that all these four shires had this wonderful food collection system that was hailed around the world as being better than sliced bread, and I'd never heard of it. I've lived in Palerang for eight years, and I'd never heard of the Council collecting anybody's food.

"So I looked at the site and it said it was being funded by a grant from The Environmental Trust. So I called them up, and according to them it was all go.

"And I told them 'No, you're wrong. It hasn't come to fruition, it's not there."

"I asked how much did you spend on it, and they said $2 million, and I nearly fell over," he said.

Although the program finished two years ago, Queanbeyan and Palerang are yet to collect and compost material from the general public under the scheme, due to development delays with the collection site at Palerang.

Queanbeyan's involvement in the waste program has so far been minimal according to general manager Gary Chapman. He said Council was still holding $30,000 for a trial program, which it would reconsider in the coming months.

"We've had no involvement for around 18 months, and we're even unsure whether we'll do the food waste collection. It hit a bit of a hiatus and we'll probably review it once the [collection] site's operational," he said.

The steering committee approved a property outside Bungendore- owned by Palerang Councillor Richard Graham- as the destination for compost during the trial program, however Mr Chapman said the rollout had been delayed by development application issues. It's expected the collection site will be online by February.

"We're unsure whether we'll participate or not ... we're holding about $30,000 to undertake a pilot scheme. But now that we know there's some certainty about it operating, we'll go back and have another look at it," Mr Chapman said.

Meanwhile, Mr Powell was absent from court on Tuesday to prosecute the charges of embezzlement and fraud he's laid against local government representatives including Palerang general manager Peter Bascomb and Councillor Richard Graham.

He provided a doctor's certificate for his absence, and Magistrate Chris Bone granted a short, one week adjournment for Mr Powell to produce a brief of evidence. However he warned he'd likely dismiss the charges if a brief wasn't forthcoming.

"Private prosecutions, if not rare, are extremely uncommon," Magistrate Bone said.

"This litigation is costing people a lot of money [in legal costs], and Mr Powell is unrepresented- he's representing himself- so it's not costing him a lot of money.

"If the brief hasn't arrived [next week], there has to be a jolly good reason for that, and it's difficult to see what reason that could possibly be," he said.

Mr Powell told The Queanbeyan Age on Wednesday that he was awaiting a copy of the Environment Department's internal audit, which he'd subpoenaed, to help make his case.

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