EXCLUSIVE: One of three controversial contracts awarded to an interstate hiring firm for executive-level recruitment to the NT public service – that ultimately sparked investigations into alleged misconduct in the highest ranks of the Department of Chief Minister – was to fill the role of police commissioner, the NT Independent understands.
The recruitment contract awarded to Melbourne-based NGS Global to recruit senior NT Government executive positions in 2019 was mysteriously broken down into three different $45,000 contracts, resulting in less oversight and multiple breaches of procurement rules.
The costs of those contracts has also ballooned to more than $200,000 from the original $135,000 total initially reported, after the contract with NGS Global was later expanded, sources with knowledge of the deal said.
The NT Independent revealed last week that a confidential report by the NT’s Buy Local Advocate found that two senior DCM executives – deputy chief executive Maria Mohr and director of governance Kerryn Batten – breached dozens of procurement rules to award the recruitment contracts to NGS Global, including altering the scores of all tenderers without evidence, failing to provide documentation for the final decision and not reflecting “fair dealing” or “best value for Territory”.
The decision to award NGS Global the contracts was defended by Department of Chief Minister & Cabinet chief executive Jodie Ryan, who struck the procurement panel to award the recruitment contracts less than a week after former NT police commissioner Reece Kershaw’s surprise announcement that he was leaving the top job to head up the AFP in late July 2019.
The initial intent was listed as providing a panel of recruitment providers to fill different executive government positions, but Ms Mohr and Ms Batten instead awarded the contract to one company and could not provide evidence of whether that decision was made before or after the release of the public tender.
“DCM is strongly of the view that the right outcome from the assessment was achieved and the process resulted in best value for money for the Northern Territory Government,” Ms Ryan wrote in response to the draft Buy Local report.
That claim was discounted by Buy Local Advocate Denys Stedman in his final report, who found “value for Territory” was markedly different from value for money.
Internal government records seen by the NT Independent, as well as discussions with well-placed sources with knowledge of the contracts, confirmed the police commissioner role – eventually filled by Jamie Chalker in October 2019 – was one of the three $45,000 contracts awarded to NGS Global for executive recruitment services.
It remains unclear why Ms Mohr and Ms Batten altered the scoring to seemingly justify awarding the contracts to NGS Global, after they had already selected the company ahead of seven others. It is also unclear why their unexplained revised “value for Territory” scoring boosted the company from fourth place to first ahead of local recruitment agencies, the Buy Local Advocate report found.
Chalker left NT Police in 2016 amid internal challenges
Ms Ryan and her twin brother Andrew Kirkman – who is currently the chief executive of the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics – went to school in Darwin with Mr Chalker and multiple sources confirmed the three have remained close over the years.
Ms Ryan refused the NT Independent’s request for an explanation as to why the contract went to NGS Global and why the scores were altered by her senior executives to support the “right outcome”.
A recruitment agency contracted by the NT Government would typically prepare a list of recommended top candidates to provide a selection panel made up of senior government officials who would make the final determination on a senior executive position.
Ms Ryan declined to say if she was involved in the government panel that ultimately appointed Mr Chalker, or if she had declared a potential conflict of interest.
She previously sat on the panel that selected current ICAC Michael Riches for the role earlier this year despite being connected to reported ongoing ICAC investigations.
Mr Chalker, who left the NT Police as assistant commissioner in 2016 to take a job as chief executive of the Department of Housing amid internal leadership issues within the force, was announced as the NT’s new police commissioner on October 30, 2019.
He also did not respond to questions for this story.
Vague ICAC report did not mention executive recruitment contracts
An ICAC report released in April into the suspicious procurement process to award the recruitment contracts, authored by then-deputy commissioner Rex Wild after a referral by Mr Stedman, made no mention of NGS Global and did not name the senior bureaucrats or department involved.
It found that Ms Batten and Ms Mohr did not engage in “unsatisfactory conduct” due to confusing NT Government procurement guidelines, but also concluded the pair had “fail(ed) to adhere to best practice”.
However, the Stedman report highlighted both women’s professional qualifications and deep knowledge of procurement processes, finding the senior bureaucrats did not compare tenderers’ prices, that they did not document assessment discussions, that proper due diligence did not appear to have occurred and that referees were not checked.
NGS Global’s directors also operate a company called Arbiter Leadership Technologies, which provides executive coaching services.
The four senior directors of NGS Global did not respond to questions posed by the NT Independent, including whether they had previously provided services to any agency of the NT Government through Arbiter.
NGS Global boasts that it is a “global search firm” that has the “best access in the world to … candidates” for senior executive positions in the public and private sectors.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner said at the time of the police commissioner appointment that Mr Chalker was given the role in large part because he was a Territorian.