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Winz: who's in charge?

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"A portrait of a dysfunctional department" is how Labour social welfare spokesperson Steve Maharey describes the Auditor-General's report today on Work and Income NZ's use of chartered aircraft.

"The report confirms what Labour has been saying for some time: Winz just doesn't work. It was clumsily put together by an inept Government and has staggered along ever since, failing the people who need its help. Ministers have refused to admit the failings that the Auditor-General has now laid bare."

The report says Winz's spending on the Wairakei conference was excessive and the use of chartered flights was the result of a series of miscommunications and mistakes. It says the travel arrangements had "a secretive flavour that we found quite inappropriate". And it says the robust financial and staff controls that would be expected in a properly functioning organisation the size of Winz were not evident in the Wairakei arrangements.

"A telling example of Winz's dysfunctional nature is the way the initial deposit on the aircraft charter was signed off on May 14," Mr Maharey says. "A subordinate of the general manager human resources got him to authorise it on the basis that she was carrying out Christine Rankin's instructions. That's not effective oversight in anybody's language.

"This same subordinate is the person now taking a personal grievance case against the department. The general manager human resources has resigned in mysterious circumstances. How much of a mess can one department make?

Mr Maharey says other questions raised by the report include:
· How much of the $21,500 spent on food and beverages for a two-day course went on alcohol?
· What 'leadership development activities" can cost $27,000 in two days?
· Why did Winz need to spend $1800 on gift packs?
· What were the compulsory evening activities that ran until midnight and what did they cost?

"It still looks to me like Winz has a culture of extravagance when it runs a conference like this," Mr Maharey says. "That's how it looks to the beneficiaries who are on the receiving end of Winz's stuff-ups as well.

"The idle National ministers who pretend to be in charge of Winz will seize on the Auditor-General's remark that the chartering "appears to have been an isolated incident". But the Auditor-General hasn't inquired into anything else. What about Winz's spending on public relations? Its television advertising? Its conference at Queenstown's Millbrook Resort? Are they all isolated incidents?"

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