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TVNZ Makes Million Dollar Mistake

TVNZ Makes Million Dollar Mistake

ACT Finance Spokesman Rodney Hide said today he's angry that state broadcaster TVNZ got its facts wrong yet again, this time when alleging corruption at the Ministry of Fisheries.

"TVNZ's October 29 Assignment documentary, on the scampi fishery, opened by claiming the Fisheries Ministry had paid a million-dollar `hush' payout to former fisheries officer Barry Nalder. That claim is false," said Mr Hide.

"The payout was for `humiliation and distress', which is hugely different from `hush money'. TVNZ's million-dollar claim was also out - by a whopping 7,700 percent, as Mr Nalder received only $13,100.

"This and other crucial errors of fact broadcast by TVNZ have been revealed by Fisheries Minister Pete Hodgson in answers to written parliamentary questions. Of course, it's possible Mr Hodgson is misleading Parliament. If so, TVNZ can broadcast their evidence and end Mr Hodgson's Ministerial career.

"If TVNZ can't refute the Minister's answers then the state broadcaster should make an immediate retraction and apology to the Minister, to the government department and to others it has smeared in broadcasting false, damaging claims," Mr Hide said.

These are TVNZ's claims, followed by Hon Pete Hodgson's answers:

Richard Long:

"There have been reports that a former fisheries officer [Barry Nalder] was paid a million dollars in so-called hush money after he was pulled off an inquiry into the multi-million dollar scampi fishing industry".

In fact, Mr Nalder received nothing like a million dollars and it certainly wasn't "hush money":

"In April 1994, a settlement agreement was concluded containing the following financial details:

1. The Director-General of Agriculture and Fisheries authorised the payment to Mr Nalder a non-taxable ex gratia payment of $13,100 on account of compensation for humiliation and distress, as provided by section 40(1)(c)(i) of the Employment Contracts Act 1991;

2. MAF would contribute $5,000 to legal costs incurred by Mr Nalder on production of an invoice;

3. In addition, Mr Nalder accepted enhanced early retirement within the terms of his employment contract with effect from 6 May 1994. Normal entitlements applied recognising a total of 26 years and six months public service ($67,646.81 gross, $48,705.70 net)."

-- Reply to Question for Written Answer No. 13738 (2002)

A $13,100 payout is well short of the million claimed by TVNZ.

Assignment journalist Rod Vaughan claimed:

"[Barry Nalder's] suspension arose because he was accused by his bosses of committing fraud in another investigation - an allegation that proved to be completely without foundation. MAF was forced to pay the former police senior sergeant huge compensation".

And further:

"Barry Nalder was eventually exonerated of any wrongdoing and MAF was forced to pay him a considerable amount of compensation."

Former police and MAF officer Ron Chadwick stated:

"It was claimed [by MAF bosses] that in relation to the Buster case that [Barry Nalder] had altered some records in the computer and that he had committed a criminal offence. I knew that wasn't correct. And as it turned out some months later he was completely exonerated."

And here is what Hon Pete Hodgson has told Parliament:

In January 1994 the Director-General of Agriculture and Fisheries reviewed the investigation into Mr Nalder's conduct in relation to altering a statutory return, namely a Quota Management Return that was the subject of an on-going prosecution. The Director-General concluded that while there did not appear to have been any wilful intent to defraud or mislead, Mr Nalder's actions and comments indicated an understanding of the quota management system well below that expected of a compliance officer and a failure to understand the full implications of his actions, the integrity of the quota management system and the reputation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF).

In considering that investigation, together with an earlier inquiry into Mr Nalder's conduct, the Director-General concluded that Mr Nalder's actions constituted serious misconduct but did not justify summary dismissal; that Mr Nalder lacked the competence and judgement required of a senior compliance officer; and that best efforts should be made to find him a suitable alternative position more fitting to his skills and competence.

Mr Nalder disputed the findings of serious misconduct and the other conclusions and advised his intention to file proceedings in the Employment Tribunal against MAF.

A suitable alternative position was unable to be found and, in April 1994, a settlement agreement was concluded containing the [financial details as contained above].

-- Reply to Question for Written Answer No. 13738 (2002)

The altering of a statutory Quota Management Return is a very serious matter. Hon Pete Hodgson also explained:

I am advised that a formal complaint was not made with the New Zealand Police, however Police officials were consulted on this matter. Police advice was that while they could investigate the matter, it would be more appropriate for the former Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to carry out its own investigation. The Police also advised that if the Ministry's investigations uncovered serious criminal offending, then they would pick up the file.

Following the Ministry's investigations, the Director-General of Agriculture and Fisheries concluded that there did not appear to have been any wilful intent to fraud or mislead and a letter was sent to Mr Nalder to this effect.

-- Reply to Question for Written Answer No. 13748 (2002)

Assignment journalist Rod Vaughan claimed:

"[Barry Nalder] later transferred to Auckland".

Hon Pete Hodgson explains what actually happened:

"I am advised that in 1989 Mr Nalder was employed by MAF as the District Compliance Manager for the Tauranga Office. In October 1992 Mr Nalder took an extended period of leave.

As a result of irresolvable conflict between Mr Nalder and the staff in Tauranga, Mr Nalder and his manager agreed that he could not return to his position. It was agreed that he would be seconded as a senior fisheries investigator to the Auckland office and Mr Nalder commenced this position in March 1993.

-- Reply to Question for Written Answer No. 13747 (2002)

TVNZ broadcast Former Fisheries Officer Barry Nalder's claim that his investigation file went missing:

"With the passage of time I am convinced that I was suspended to stop me from investigating Simunovich Fisheries any further and it was really reinforced when during the course of my suspension the file that I was working on went missing out of the MAF Fisheries office at Auckland".

Assignment journalist Rod Vaughan also broadcast the claim:

"What's more [Barry Nalder] says his comprehensive file on the [Simunovich] case disappeared from his locked desk in the Ministry of Fisheries."

Hon Pete Hodgson says there is no missing file:

"I am advised that the Ministry of Fisheries is not aware of any missing files relating to any investigation of Simunovich Fisheries Ltd.

"The Ministry of Fisheries holds the "Operation Export" file. This is an early phase investigation file aimed at gathering intelligence and evidence of illegal activity. The target of the investigation was Simunovich Fisheries Ltd and the period of time subject to the investigation was October 1992 onwards.

-- Reply to Question for Written Answer No. 13740 (2002)

"The claims by TVNZ's Assignment documentary are wrong and very damaging. These claims could easily have been checked through questions to the Ministry of Fisheries. I fear, however, that TVNZ may not have taken the simple step of putting their allegations to the Ministry before their broadcast.

"Spurred by TVNZ's documentary, we now have a Parliamentary select committee inquiry into alleged corruption by Ministry of Fisheries officials. I have written to Committee Chair Hon David Carter suggesting that the Committee summon TVNZ as their first witness. I think it crucial that, in the first instance, the Committee ask TVNZ what evidence it has to back up its serious allegations," Mr Hide said.

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