Minister Meka Whaitiri stood down pending probe into staffing issue
By Paul McBeth
Aug. 30 (BusinessDesk) - Customs Minister Meka Whaitiri has stood aside from her portfolios while Ministerial Services investigates a staffing issue in her office.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today said she's accepted Whaitiri's offer to relinquish her portfolios while the probe takes place. The PM was told of the matter yesterday.
"Meka Whaitiri has told me she will be fully cooperating with the investigation, which will be thorough and conducted as quickly as possible," Ardern said in a statement. She said neither she nor Whaitiri will comment further on the matter while the investigation is underway citing "privacy concerns".
Whaitiri is the second minister in less than a week to come under scrutiny after ICT Minister Clare Curran was demoted from Cabinet and stripped of her open government portfolios. Whaitiri sat outside Cabinet and was touted as a potential candidate to get elevated to the inner circle of the executive.
Kris Faafoi will take over as acting customs minister, while Whaitiri's associate roles in agriculture, Crown/Māori relations, forestry and local government will revert to the lead ministers. Her delegations include animal welfare and Māori agribusiness, and developing innovation and upskilling in the forestry sector.
Her stand-down comes a month before new customs law takes effect, aligning the 20-year old legislation to new business practices and technology. It also comes at a time when Customs New Zealand has been operating with an acting comptroller, Christine Stevenson, since June last year.
The previous comptroller, Carolyn Tremain, was appointed chief executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment earlier this month, having held the role in an acting capacity since June last year.