Big contracts let despite funding veto

The Department of the Attorney-General and the Department of Corrective Services awarded millions of dollars in contracts for office space and court security despite formal requests for funding being knocked back by Cabinet.

The Government was last night unable to answer questions about the cost of the contracts, their duration, to whom they were awarded or why and how the contracts could be awarded without approval.

But the contracts are causing budgetary pressure and were noted by Treasury as a "spending risk" in December's midyear economic review because they were "made without prior funding approval".

In an Upper House estimates committee hearing this week, Under-Treasurer Tim Marney said the commitments had been made "at agency level".

"My understanding was they were brought before Government for consideration, the Government rejected the submission and commitments were made regardless," Mr Marney said.

Asked by committee chairman Ken Travers how such a thing could happen, Mr Marney said: "They have delegated authority to enter into procurement of and enter into contracts. The onus is on the agency to live within its expense limit. My concern is, given the commitments they have made, that they will not be able to do that."

Asked for the magnitude of the financial commitments, Mr Marney said it was "not hundreds (of millions of dollars), but certainly in the order of ten (million dollars)."

In response to questions from _The West Australian _, Attorney-General Michael Mischin's office provided only a brief statement.

"The contractual commitments referred to in the midyear review were for court security for the Kununurra courthouse, increased lease space at Westralia Square and additional accommodation for the Legal Practitioner's Complaints Committee," the statement said.

"These programs will be funded from existing resources and through other efficiencies and savings."

Mr Mischin's spokeswoman said last night that the Kununurra court security contract had been awarded by the Department of Corrective Services.

WA's court security is provided by Serco as part of its $50-million-a-year contract with the State Government, which includes prisoner transfer responsibilities.

The West Australian

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