• Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands is an Aboriginal local government area in South Australia (SBS)Source: SBS
The interim manager of Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands says he has assumed control of its government funds in an effort to improve accountability and transparency.
Myles Morgan

9 Jul 2015 - 3:30 PM  UPDATED 9 Jul 2015 - 4:44 PM

Richard King, an experienced bureaucrat within the South Australian government, was appointed by the state earlier this year to bring stability to the troubled governing body on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands.

Mr King told NITV News he wanted to control the expenditure of government money to improve accountability.

"I've come in and put a stop on spending other than the spending that I approve directly. This puts a halt to any spending outside the funding agreements," he said.

"[The government] can be reassured, both state and federal, that the situation has improved and whenever we’re spending public money we have to be transparent, we have to be accountable."

The APY Lands cover more than 100,000 square kilometres in outback South Australia. It is home to about 2,500 Aboriginal people living in communities such as Mimili, Indulkana, Pukatja and Amata.

The authority of APY's governing board, composed of 10 local members, is generally restricted to development and use of the land.

Earlier this year a KPMG audit found spending and transparency issues within the APY corporation in its study of the APY's records from July to December 2014.

"The overarching finding of the review is that due to a general lack of financial control and non-compliance with required expenditure delegations, the accuracy of income and expenditure … cannot be relied upon," the review reads.

"I've come in and put a stop on spending other than the spending that I approve directly. This puts a halt to any spending outside the funding agreements"

The audit found staff had been paid in excess of their contract amounts, two executive members had minor outstanding debts, staff had spent money without proper approval and money spent was insufficiently tracked.

"When you’re looking at some of that data, it looks worse than what it actually was," Mr King said. "We didn’t have any computer systems at that time so it made it difficult for [KPMG] to go back through our records. 

Mr King, who was appointed as interim general manager in April, said the next audit would be improved. "It should show our financial accountabilities and transparency is in place, and we’re open for business.”

Minutes from the April meeting of the APY Executive show some board members felt they were under pressure to employ him before eventually agreeing to a three-month contract.

It came as the Federal Government cut the flow of new Commonwealth money for the APY Executive in a show of no confidence.

The Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, told NITV News the financial issues were “simply bad behaviour”.

South Australian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kyam Mayher said he had considered sending in an administrator.

"As minister, I’m not opposed to an administrator being appointed but it’s not my first preference," he told NITV News.

"In all sorts of areas there are significant challenges but there have been some pretty significant reforms that I think will continue in terms of governance for the APY Executive."

There are a number of profitable opportunities on the horizon for APY Lands, according to its interim manager.

"We've got the cattle company coming online. We've been doing a fair bit of work with them," said Mr King.

"We've got six Anangu workers coming on and we just recruited two leading hands to work in the cattle industry. This is part of APY moving forward and becoming self-sustaining in the future.

He said it was working with the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure to build new roads.

"We’ve got major road construction happening across the lands, preparing for that to happen, doing clearances, making sure we’ve got our gravel pits and any ground breaking work is not going to disturb any important sites."