Two top ranking South Australian government IT executives have been cleared by the state's ombudsman of claims they broke probity rules during a 2012 trip to New Zealand with IT supplier Dimension Data.
In 2013, a whistleblower complained to SA authorities that the heads of ICT strategic sourcing and government network services took the trip with the vendor whilst in the tendering phase of a multi-million-dollar managed network services deal.
The deal, which had previously been held by DiData at a value of about $121 million over eight years, was awarded to NEC in September last year.
Both the incumbent provider and NEC had submitted their expressions of interest at the time of the trip.
The ombudsman's report does not name Dimension Data as the vendor in question, but sister publication iTnews identified the company through listed contacts.
Current head of digital government at the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Rick Seaman, has also been identified as the director of ICT strategic sourcing at the time of the trip. Daryl Keen was the then-director of StateNet service.
Both Dimension Data and the SA Department of Premier and Cabinet declined to comment.
The trip took place in September 2012, between when expressions of interest in the deal closed on 5 June 2012 and when shortlisted respondents were sent request for proposal documents on 8 January 2013.
More than two years later, SA Ombudsman Wayne Lines has concluded that the actions of the men did not amount to misconduct or maladministration within the meaning of the state’s corruption laws.
Lines said he was satisfied that the content of the NZ meetings did not overlap with the parameters of the network managed services procurement, and that the pair worked to tick boxes with government lawyers and probity advisers to ensure everything was above board.
In a redacted version of the report (pdf), however, he did question the timing of the NZ trip, during which the pair of executives met with vendors and representatives of the NZ government about their cloud buying scheme, alongside Dimension Data and several other IT vendors.
“If indeed the trip was a ‘study tour’ for .. future ICT sourcing, I query why it could not have been postponed until the finalisation of the [network managed services] tender process,” Lines wrote.
He said Seaman and Keen “could have been more circumspect” about the trip’s appearance amongst the vendor community.
The ombudsman also dismissed suggestions of collusion, even though the two met to compare their recollections of the trip after being notified of the investigation.
Lines called the meeting “injudicious” but said he was satisfied it never “prejudiced the integrity of the investigation”.
He reserved the strongest criticism for Dimension Data, which he said tried to use the trip as an opportunity to “spruik their wares” during the tendering process.
The investigation surfaced emails between Australian and NZ DiData executives calling the SA official’s trip “an important visit … as I expect he will be part of the RFT review panel in probably the first quarter of 2013”.
DiData’s South Australian boss originally prepared a tentative itinerary for the officials, using the company’s contacts within the NZ public sector.
After discussions with DPC probity advisors, the officials turned down offers from a DiData executive to take them on a “guided tour” of the NZ government’s infrastructure and to accompany the pair on their trip.
Ultimately the trip was booked and paid for by the state government. It included a meeting with Dimension Data as well as a meeting with the NZ Police, during which DiData executives were present.
It also involved meetings with the NZ Department of Internal Affairs, NZ government IT executives and several other local IT businesses.
Seaman, identified as Mr A in the report, is quoted as defending the fine line a procurement executive walks in trying to keep abreast of developments while remaining inside the probity fence.
“So if the implication is I shouldn’t go anywhere where we have suppliers providing a service, I would never go anywhere to talk to anyone,” he argued.
“Probity isn’t about living as a mushroom, it’s about managing the contacts that you do have to reduce risk and ensure fairness and equity.”