Letter to AR from VK3QB. Refused publication by the editor.

Dear Peter,

Last month I wrote a letter to the editor where I raised a number of issues.  Whilst the responses were inadequate, I thank Phil Wait and the Board for their acknowledgement of the need to address some of the issues.

Members can decide the appropriateness of our President quoting philosopher Niccolo Machiavello in an attempt to excuse unprofessional behaviour and poor conduct.  The “new order of things” has certainly proven to be “uncertain in success”.  It didn’t need to be.

The issues of financial management were not answered either fully or with complete transparency.   The Board is charged with managing OUR money with professionalism and regard for maximum benefit to the members.  EVERY financial decision should focus on benefit to members.

Phil Wait advised he attended the National Office with the WIA accountant, auditor and Mr Swainston in late February 2016 and informed members of the following:

“We spent several hours analysing the accounting system and the financial records and determined that the WIA did not appear to have any major accounting issues. Accounting processes and record keeping has been very much improved in the last few months, and major problems with the WIA’s upcoming annual financial review are not anticipated. On the information available at the time of writing, it seems the WIA has no major financial issues. We expect the Auditor’s review to go smoothly and the financial result for 2015 will be available after that.”

Auditors are not responsible if inadequate financial management occurs for the previous 12 months; they won’t care that we make a profit or loss; so long as the books are in order at the end of the year.  So, whilst the President reports that there appears to be “no major accounting issues”, will the President confirm that there are no other material financial management issues or even a collection of small but important issues?

To ensure transparency for members I ask the President to answer the following:

  1. A former Director (Rowan Dollar) requested a P&L statement be prepared in the latter part of 2015. The Acting Executive Administrator and WIA Director, Fred Swainston was unable or unwilling to produce such a statement and the Board did not react to what was clearly a major warning flag. Within 2 weeks of becoming Treasurer (late January 2016), it was clear to me that the financial processes and accounting system  were in such a poor state that it was simply not possible to produce a representative P&L statement or Balance Sheet for 2015.  How were financial decisions made during this period?   Would the President explain to members how this represents “very much improved” accounting processes?
  2. In February I presented a P&L Statement to the Board; it highlighted some very serious compliance and performance problems due to entirely inadequate financial management practices in the National Office over the previous 5 months. I asked that the Board review and approve a set of actions to remedy these issues.  My request for Board comment was ignored; it was not held over to a later meeting as claimed.  Can the President explain to members why the Board ignored yet another major alarm that the National Office was out-of-control with finance processes?

Other questions (just a representative sample) that the WIA Director Mr Swainston, whilst in the paid role of Acting Executive Administrator is requested to answer:

  1. Were Accounts receivable and payable being actively managed each month?
  2. Are delays of 3 months to reimburse expenses to volunteers acceptable?
  3. Was GST and BAS processed on time for the second half of 2015 (during which time the WIA was paying an accountant to attend the office)?
  4. Were fines incurred for late payment of invoices?
  5. Were invoices paid multiple times?

Members should be alarmed that the previous two Treasurers have raised serious concerns with the manner in which the finances and accounts were managed between September 2015 and January 2016.  Further, the culture that existed during this period led to the dismantling of key operational procedures that exposed the Institute’s accounting system to financial errors as well as potential fines.  Sure, much of it can be fixed, but how much of the members’ money is being spent on an external accountant during this period and now as a paid Treasurer to remedy problems created between September 2015 and January 2016; a period during which a WIA Director was also being paid to act as Executive Administrator?

Many members are mindful that the WIA turns over about $500,000 per annum and has gone for some years making losses, or at best, a very small profit.  Tight business and financial management and prudent decision making during this period is critical to our future.  At least one of the reports I saw coming out of the National Office was vastly different to the numbers being reported by the Accounting System.  When I questioned a WIA Director on the matter I was advised “not to worry.  It’s just to give the Board an indication of how well we’re doing”.  Really?  I received a similarly dismissive answer when I asked about the lack of an end-of-year inventory count.  And again when I queried why a volunteer was not being reimbursed for a valid expense claim.  Very much improved?  Appropriate conduct for a Director?  I don’t think so.

Can the President prove that members should not be concerned that financial management is far from “very much improved” and that an unhealthy and arrogant culture persists within a key faction of the Board.

A functioning Board should be a positive experience for all Board members.  A functioning Board should enable its members to raise issues that are acknowledged and discussed in an open and collaborative environment.   The fact that the Boards’ culture and conduct led me to resign after just 6 weeks (and three other Board members in the previous 5 months) remains unaddressed.

To ensure members have access to a balanced record of the facts a website has been established.  Please visit the WIA Reform Group website for more info.  http://www.wiarg.org

In closing, I have a few questions for the President.  In the board newsletter Number 8/9, August September edition, the President stated that

“The operations at the WIA Office were considered in detail. This review was based on an office review that was completed by an external consultant”. 

After being questioned a number of times, the President advised the Facebook community in early March that the external consultant was Silverdale Training & Development.  This fact was also provided in the April edition of AR Magazine.  What has not been revealed is that WIA Director, Fred Swainston, is also a Director of this company.  Why was this fact not revealed to members?  Did the Director in question notify the Board of a conflict of interest?  Do the Board minutes reflect these decisions?  If office operations were considered in detail, why was a subsequent journey of discovery required?

WIA Members deserve far better than weak quotes from dead philosophers, poor decision making, and inappropriate Board conduct.


Chris Chapman VK3QB

WIA Member

Letter to AR from VK8RD. Refused publication by the editor.

Dear Peter and Members,

I’ve never written a “Letter to the Editor” however in these dark days of WIA history I feel compelled to do so. I apologise for the length of this letter but would urge all to read it fully.

I was elected to the Board of the WIA in May 2014 and continued until 26th December 2015. In my letter of resignation to Mr Wait, I quoted numerous instances of inappropriate Board behaviours including conflicts of interest, arrogance, incompetence, mismanagement, nepotism, bullying, egotism and self-promotion combined with a general disdain for members and any good business sense and practice. I could not ethically continue and to have done so would have tarred me with the same brush.

Whenever a politician is under pressure they will half answer a question or direct your attention elsewhere. So it was with Mr Wait’s answers to Mr Chapman who raised serious issues most of which were not actually answered by the Board response. Will this letter get the same half-truths and non-answers? When the Board tries to spin away from these facts or only half answer questions please remember I was there. I have the Board minutes and other communications.

WIA directors are volunteers and are elected. Mr Wait presents this as an excuse for poor behaviour, poor ethics and unprofessionalism. Mr Wait and I had discussed the problems with the VK2 and VK3 Board members for a long time. Mr Wait, the members expect and are entitled to professional behaviour and ethics from any member representing the WIA membership whether elected or not. Volunteers are no more entitled to behave badly or to feather their own nests than a paid employee would be.

My proverbial last straw was Mr Waits’ response to a request I made of the National Office Manager, Mr Swainston, a long serving Board member, asking for a Profit & Loss statement and Balance Sheet. As a director I had an obligation on behalf of the members to ensure that the books are in order. According to Mr Wait it was not the WIA’s normal business practice and I would have to wait until the review was completed in time for the AGM (6 months time!). Any accountants I have spoken to have a differing view that the books should be reported on at least quarterly if not monthly. Mr Wait and Mr Swainston could not supply me with a Profit & Loss and Balance sheet a few weeks ago, then how could they possibly know that revenue has increased?

Mr Wait has subsequently publicly stated that there are “no major issues” with the financial affairs of the WIA. Good news indeed. Note the use of major. Politicians use qualifying words all the time to distance themselves from any fallout – no major issues, no problems we are aware of etc. Mr Wait did not mention the small issues like the WIA’s accounting systems being in such a huge mess that they were in no state for the audit review, late payments of tax, fines incurred because of late payments, volunteers and members not being reimbursed expenses in a timely manner and many others. Being a director is about trust too. Trust isn’t spin.

Ask about technology in the 21st century or question WIA director Mr Broomhead’s WIA operations and he will quote “security” issues to you. The security audit often quoted was done a decade ago and is not relevant. The only security risk is the outdated systems being relied upon by the WIA and protected by Directors, Mr Harrison and Mr Broomhead both without any relevant professional experience. There are specialist companies that will do a much better job for far less money.

In the Open Forum report last year Mr Broomhead wrote “…another project completed in 2015 was the upgrading of the WIA Office file server and computer workstations… These have brought about enormous improvements in productivity and efficiency for our WIA office staff.” If this is the case, then you should wonder why it took Mr Swainston six months on his “mission of discovery” especially when he refused to ask advice of the then recently resigned Treasurer. Where is the value to members in all this expenditure?

Mr Wait publicly proclaimed the “independent consultant’s” review of the National Office carried out in 2015 that resulted in the last Manager being removed from his post. Ask yourself, if Mr Broomhead’s spending thousands of your funds resulted in “enormous improvements in productivity and efficiency for our WIA office staff” then why did Mal Brooks have to go? Surely responsibility for performance lies as much with the employer as the employee? Why are there more people in the office now than a year ago? When Mr Wait states that “much improved feedback from members” is being received I wonder how that is being measured? From what I have seen the grumbling has increased. Some examples being emails not being answered for months if at all, the current election debacle with members not receiving Ballots and WIA polo shirts being sent without logos!

In March 2016, after continued questioning, Mr Wait nominated a female owner of Silverdale Training and Development Pty Ltd as being the elusive “independent consultant” who carried out the review of the National Office. Most members will realise that Mr Swainston is a director, owner and Chief Executive of the very same company. The review report has not been made available to the Board. The recommendation accepted by the Board to remove Mal Brooks was made by Mr Swainston. How independent was the review, exactly?

Following the review, Mr Swainston’s appointment to the well paid position of Office Manager was approved by the Board for a period of 6 weeks in August 2015. A further approval was gained by Mr Swainston at the Board meeting in September for a further 6 weeks, at which two Board members were absent (Mr Platt and myself). No further approvals were made. The Board paid Mr Swainston $2060 per week for the 6 months it took to hire a new Manager. Nice work if you can get it! According to the last treasurer the financial processes in the office are a complete disaster. The Board is now spending thousands more of your dollars sorting out the mess when they had two treasurers for free. When your annual fees go up remember the current free spending Board.

To my knowledge there was no performance management, no contract, no governance and certainly no transparency during the tenure of Mr Swainston. In fact, the Board and the President did everything they could to hide the identity of the “independent consultant” from members as far back as the September issue of Amateur Radio. I queried the conflict of interest under the Constitution, barring a director or member making a profit above market rate, and was told that Mr Swainston was running the office as a consultant and not a Director or member so the Constitution did not apply!

In the last AR News, the appointment of the new office manager Mr Deefholts was announced and clearly stated that he has corporate and not-for-profit experience. Not quite true according to Mr Deefholts’ online career profiles. A career with Telstra and Hewlett Packard is hardly not-for-profit! Whilst admirable, a few years as a volunteer fireman at Toolangi in VK3 is not experience managing a not-for-profit organisation. If I had applied with relevant experience and qualifications, I would be wondering why I didn’t get an interview as I’m sure many now are.

Speaking of Toolangi, it is the same small country village, population of 289, that Mr Swainston’s company is registered in. Coincidence?

I voted against the directors’ junket to Norfolk Island. I believe it is elitist, alienates a large proportion of the membership and I was the only dissenting Board member. If members want a holiday on Norfolk Island then that is their own business but for directors to expect an all expenses paid Pacific Island holiday shouted by the members is galling. No clubs were canvassed to see if an alternative location was viable. It is not too late to arrange a mainland location. I wonder how may directors and staff would attend if they had to pay their own way?

Mr Wait spoke of “Board discussions and agreement” regarding Mr Broomhead’s vehicle storage yet I don’t remember reading in any minutes nor being involved in a discussion about Mr Broomhead renting space from the WIA to park his car. It is possible that there were so many other major issues like governance and conflicts of interests on the Board absorbing my time that I failed to notice. Maybe I was left out of that particular discussion again? Of course, once the issue was brought to the members’ notice he has agreed to move his car so no harm done right? I believe a director using their position to gain access to benefits not available to the general membership is abhorrent.

A request was made to the President late last year for the WIA to fund a well-known amateur and his company to produce a training application for iPhones. I felt it inappropriate to use your money to promote this amateur’s private company. Mr Wait’s response was that the amateur “…has a very long association with the WIA and has been a major force in (amateur radio).” No paperwork, no contract, no governance. Look at the authors of the top selling books from the WIA bookshop and you might notice a potential conflict of interest too.

An enormous opportunity was lost in 2015 when two VK4 amateurs approached the WIA Board with a proposal to easily secure 1.9Mhz and 70Mhz allocations for VK. Board members allowed personal vendettas with at least one of these amateurs to result in no action being taken. Thanks to the current Board you do not have access to 1.9Mhz or 70Mhz.

As members we deserve better. Our hobby should be thriving and not being left to die slowly. We deserve a WIA that has a representative from each main call area not just the select few, a Board planning strategy not the next Pacific trip, a functioning committee structure, a functioning relationship with ACMA and government generally to promote our hobby as the technology innovators in this country, proper governance and transparency. We deserve better value for our membership fees and a greater say in how our money is spent.

All the current elected Board members need to resign immediately and we need to resurrect the WIA and hobby in VK. They need to be replaced by an experienced management team from across VK to save the Institute and the hobby. This needs to happen urgently.

You might be like me – angry and disappointed. Question these people; phone them, email them and talk about it on your nets, social media and at your club meetings. Emails to the Editor of Amateur Radio. It is important.

There’s more. No steak knives but a litany of issues, conflicts and troubling challenges which need repair. You may or may not read this letter in Amateur Radio however it will be published online and sent to clubs regardless. If you do read this, then please go to www.wiarg.org and get the facts without the spin.


Rowan Dollar (VK8RD)