Sunday, March 4, 2012

How Victorian police spent $3.5 million on 250 taxpayer-funded credit cards

VICTORIA police have used taxpayer-funded credit cards to buy gifts, fast food, doughnuts, artwork and spa resort accommodation.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws by the Sunday Herald Sun show more than $3.5 million was spent on 250 publicly funded corporate credit cards in the past three financial years.

Among more than 13,000 transactions are tens of thousands of dollars spent on flowers, alcohol and fast food.

According to police rules, the Visa cards, held by senior sworn and unsworn members, are meant to be used for "critical incident procurement".

Transaction reports show the cards have been used for payments to cinemas, ten-pin bowling, concert tickets, golf clubs, go karting, magazine subscriptions, bedding, jewellery and even a company that sells dolls' houses and accessories.

The bank statements span 325 pages and show $1588 spent on glass artwork, $22,464.79 on flowers, $11,221.39 on fast food and $3263.67 on alcohol.

The Chief Commissioner's office has spent almost $150,000 on 17 credit cards, including on chauffeur-driven cars, glass artwork and stays at country spa resorts and the five-star Palazzo Versace on the Gold Coast.

Other police departments have spent public funds on massages, Mornington Peninsula's hot springs, thousands at golf clubs and online golf stores and more than $3000 on artwork.

"Cardholders must always act in the interests of the state, as opposed to their own personal interests or convenience and must perform their duties honestly, with skill and care," the Department of Treasury and Finance rules state.

Some transactions show obvious work-related expenses, such as a $390 purchase at a ski shop for tyre chains for a search and rescue operation.

Victoria Police said it carried out regular reviews and "there have been no reportable breaches". But it admits knowing of one private purchase of around $20 that was made inadvertently. The money was repaid.

The documents also show more than $6000 was spent at Barbecues Galore, hundreds at ticket agencies and the Home Barista Institute, $800 at Ace Karts and at least three purchases at baby gift stores.

At least one card has a maximum spending limit of $25,000. Most have a maximum limit of between $2000 and $3000. The highest transaction was for $5892.08 at a hotel in mid-December last year.

Other purchases include $1216 at the Village cinema at Crown and $386.30 at St Kilda Sea Baths followed by $412.80 at the nearby Beachcomber Cafe on Christmas Eve.

There are also payments for a $758.80 roller that picks up nuts and $59.70 at Koorong Books - a Christian bookshop in Blackburn South.

Police Association Secretary Greg Davies said the purchases "beggar belief". "These cards do help members book conference rooms at short notice and things like that but I am damned if I know why glass artworks, massages, spa resorts and cinemas are being booked out," Sen-Sgt Davies said. "It beggars belief that these purchases are being made at a time when operational police struggle to find a working computer ... in order to do their job.

"I would hope Chief Commissioner Ken Lay tightens the reins on this spending."

The transactions include $1588 at Kirra Gallery and $345 at Madison Spa Resort.

On Wednesday, the Sunday Herald Sun asked Victoria Police to explain 70 purchases. Spokeswoman Anna Erbrederis said the force would explain only 20 that it had selected.

Of those, massages were given to data-entry staff, artwork was bought for Box Hill Police Station, alcohol was bought for conferences and functions and three gifts were bought. There was also $2248 spent at Macedon Spa for "work-related travel".

Krispy Kreme doughnuts, karaoke, sporting memorabilia and $96.78 at Harrods in London was also deemed correct use of the credit cards by Victoria Police.

"All transactions were for Victoria Police work-related expenditure and none were in regard to personal use," a spokeswoman said.

"The purpose of the corporate card is to make simple purchases. It is considered easier to use the corporate card and a lot more effective than having employees pay for the goods and then reimburse them.

"Any Victoria Police permanent employee - sworn or unsworn - can request a corporate card with justification and is subject to the approval by local managers and department or region heads. As a general rule, a corporate card should be used for one-off, ad hoc purchases, rather than for the payment of ongoing contracts and services. There are clear consequences if cardholders misuse their cards or if there is unauthorised use."

She added the credit cards can be used for flight and hotel bookings if "out of normal business hours", but it is not encouraged.


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