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Tariana Turia - Conflict of Interest at Hawkes Bay

Urgent Debate: Report into Conflict of Interest at Hawkes Bay

Tariana Turia, Health Spokesperson for the Maori Party

Tuesday 18 March 2008

Tena koe Mr Speaker

It is a matter of considerable concern to all of us in this House, that a report into the capacity of the Hawkes Bay District Health Board has revealed a culture of mistrust and dysfunction between the board and management.

We have learnt from Director-General of Health, Stephen McKernan, that if the Chair had applied common sense and good practice, the matters at the heart of this whole issue might well have been avoided.

Well frankly, this remains to be seen.

There are major questions that must be asked arising from this whole report.

One of them has to be why was Peter Hausmann appointed by this Government to the Board?

People in the community have asked the question, why was Peter Hausmann appointed to the Board knowing of his business interests and the conflict of interest, particularly knowing he was a potential contractor for services from the Hawkes Bay District Board?

To say that he was appointed because of the skills and expertise he could bring to the board simply doesn’t make sense.

There are other business people, who are not so implicated in the business of health, that might also have been excellent in the role.

Why was the role of management not looked at, in contractual agreements, in light of the allegations being made?

Mr Speaker, five years ago, all sorts of crisis and scandal was directed at another body in the Hawkes Bay, a Maori health provider.

The Hawkes Bay District Health Board ordered an urgent investigation into the Trust after claims of mis-management.

The headlines screamed accusations of nepotism, the wolves were quick to call for immediate statutory management for the future of the Maori health provider – a provider that had been running successfully for more than a decade.

The audit looked into allegations of the employment of family members, this was a hapu provider, the use of trust vehicles, and a range of other practices considered outside of the organisation’s contractor.

Yet when a couple of years later, these conflicts of interest arise between two commercial initiatives between the Hawkes Bay District Health Board and a board member, suddenly it appears that conflict of interest is not such a biggie at all.

That, Mr Speaker, is the double standard operating here.

That the most simple test of governance we would have expected operating at the level of the DHB has failed – and yet that same board had been quick to judge a Maori health provider caught under the same slur of judgement.

We know that for far too many of these appointments, cronyism has been seen as part and parcel of their practice.

Cronyism is in fact the norm.

We know that Ministers also alter reports.

Ministers can deny all they want that they don’t interfere in these so-called independent reports, but it is simply part of the convention of this place.

So the comments made by board chair Kevin Atkinson, that the final report reeks of political interference, or that irrelevant matters are being submerged under a smokescreen is probably not too far from the truth.

And I want to make some comments about this person.

It is far too common a practice for people to come to this House to denigrate and insult individuals, to name and blame them for the various issues that need to be attended to.

Mr Atkinson has been the latest victim of this approach – and yet he is in fact the very same man that was appointed not too long ago by this same Government to be the Chair of this Board after being elected by his community.

Are they admitting their error in appointing him? Their mis -judgment?

The House exists in the dubious privilege of being able to slam individuals who are unable to defend their honour in the debating chamber.

The fundamental issue for this House and this Minister of Health to deal with, is that if the relationship was as dysfunctional as the report lies out, why weren’t the issues identified earlier?

What were the checks and balances in place to ensure that the competing business priorities of in fact two of the members of the board didn’t come to the attention earlier?

The competition between Mr Hausmann and the pharmacy interests should have come to the attention of the board long before it came to the attention of the Ministry of Health.

What it really highlights is the appropriateness of people involved in health sector business also being involved in governance and management levels.

We know that Maori are pilloried over and over again with spurious claims of nepotism and conflict of interest.

We in the Maori Party actually know that the strengths of whanaungatanga can actually work really well to provide a solid foundation for business success.

One only has to cast our memories back to the crisis hyped up around Te Wananga o Aotearoa to know that Maori organisations often come under a great deal of scrutiny when family members are involved, and particularly by this House.

In actual fact, whanaungatanga, or kinship, the extended-family linkages in Maori society are not a point of conflict, they are a point of difference.

And if we look broader, in many ways, keeping business within the family has actually been so successful that it places on the National Business Review rich list.

Forty-seven of the 187 entries in the 2004 list were in fact family affairs. There’s the Goodman family, the Fletchers, and of course many others.

The point is all about being transparent, coming up clean, ensuring that mandated checks and balances can be adequately enforced.

We are the last party to claim that relationships and connections can not be used to the benefit of a business.

The key issue must be in the way they are managed and the way in which the technical, ethical and public perception is organised.

The general feeling is that in this case, it was not good practice.

The Maori Party agree with the Greens that anyone with health business interests should not be involved on any district health board.

This is a sector in which this nation needs to be able to trust, for the good of the health of the people, that we have standards and practices that are transparent and prevent people getting a competitive advantage.

The Maori Party also supports the suggestion that an inquiry should be made in to the Hawkes Bay District Health Board by the Auditor-General.


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