Former WA public servant ‘abused power’

Stock image.
Stock image.

SERIOUS misconduct by a former senior West Australian public servant resulted in significant unauthorised expenditure of taxpayer funds, the corruption watchdog has found.

The Corruption and Crime Commission says Felicity Heffernan abused her power when she was the director of the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s legal and commercial division between 2016 and 2018.

The CCC said she falsified records, defied Cabinet decisions and recklessly failed to comply with proper procedure.

“Ms Heffernan ought to have epitomised honesty and integrity and acted in DPIRD’s best interest, not least because she was in a position of trust and given great autonomy,” it said on Friday.

“Instead, she dishonestly brought about situations where significant, unauthorised payments were paid to two individuals by preparing false letters of engagement.”

When the state government abolished the Potato Marketing Board in 2016, employees whose contract continued beyond December 31 that year were to be transferred to another department, with DPIRD the obvious destination.

Tony Galati.

But Ms Heffernan and the board’s chief executive Peter Evans ensured he was, in effect, paid a full redundancy of close to $400,000.

Through a bogus letter from a law firm, he was immediately hired as a consultant to assist DPIRD in ongoing litigation between the state and Perth’s maverick “spud king” Tony Galati at a cost of almost $100,000.

The CCC said it was significant cabinet had refused a request from the board for an additional $450,000 to assist with the legal action.

The other matter involved Howard Carr, an expert in plant intellectual property whom DPIRD employed from time-to-time.

His employment had expired and to circumvent a public sector recruitment freeze, Ms Heffernan concocted a payment arrangement, using a different law firm as an intermediary, to continue engaging Dr Carr.

She falsified a letter of engagement, purportedly from the law firm, and backdated it.

The CCC said her actions amounted to serious misconduct and recommended an appropriate authority or independent agency consider whether to commence prosecution.

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