Fiordland St John committee sacked

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2014

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St John has sacked its Fiordland area committee.

The move comes after an internal investigation into allegations of financial anomalies within the committee following an audit last year.

There were no allegations of fraud; instead the investigation looked into suggestions that St John policies and procedures regarding a supporter scheme were not followed, as well as other alleged breaches of St John policy regarding expense reimbursement.

As part of the investigation, area committee chairman Stew Burnby and secretary treasurer Peter Dolamore were suspended.

However, St John South Island Region Trust Board chairman Geoff Ridley said the committee members had all been stood down as of Wednesday.

A draft internal report in December, and a review of information provided on behalf of Mr Burnby and Mr Dolamore in February had forced the board's hand, he said.

"The South Island Region Trust Board believes that the issues are of such magnitude and complexity that the present area committee must be disestablished," Mr Ridley said.

St John would not be commenting further on the situation, he said.

The decision to disestablish the committee was made public after a meeting between some committee members and area committee relationship manager Chris Wilson in Te Anau on Wednesday night.

Mr Dolamore and Mr Burnby did not attend the meeting on advice from their legal representative.

The board would appoint a minimum of four representatives from the community of Fiordland or St John to act as an interim oversight group until the establishment of a new committee could take place, Mr Ridley said.

Mr Dolamore said on Thursday he was surprised by the move.

"When this whole thing started, we were told by St John it was just the executive officers who were being investigated," he said.

Sacking the entire committee would allow St John to fill the void with "yes people" who would not question any decisions made by the organisation, Mr Dolamore said.

"They will appoint puppets to do what they are told," he said.

It was a sad day for the community, the ambulance service in Fiordland and the volunteers, who did an important job, he said.

Tony Austin, an area committee member until his position was disestablished, said committee members were given 24 hours' notice of the meeting and he did not attend.

"I think if you are going to sack everyone, they deserve more than 24 hours' notice and they deserve an agenda," he said.

He said he believed the committee was sacked because many of its members stood with Mr Dolamore and Mr Burnby.

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"When this whole investigation began we said the whole committee should be held accountable, not just the two of them," he said.

"I think St John believed they could control the rest of us but have now realised we won't be told what to do [and] they have sacked us all."

The allegations against the area committee were unfounded and part of St John's desire to take control of what had been a successful and well-run community organisation, Mr Austin said.

"We haven't been told by St John what the magnitude and complexity of the issues are and Stu and Peter are still waiting for the findings of the investigation," he said.

When asked for a response to the comments from Mr Dolamore and Mr Austin, a St John spokesman said the organisation would not comment any further on the matter.

- The Southland Times

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