Auditor-General shows up closed and opaque Government
“A report released by the Auditor-General today is a damning indictment of a Cabinet Minister and confirms Shane Jones was able to play a decisive role in having $4.6 million of taxpayer money given to Manea Footprints of Kupe Cultural Heritage and Education Centre”, ACT Leader David Seymour says.
“In March, ACT revealed that Shane Jones played a decisive role in reassuring Regional Economic Development Ministers that a project he once chaired was worthy of receiving taxpayer funding.
“The smoking gun was an email from an official reporting that Jones had been present at a meeting on 12 February 2018 where: ‘Minister Robertson raised his concerns about the broader management and commercial operations of the project. Minister Jones provided reassurance that as the project has Far North Holding Ltd, the commercial arm of the Far North District Council, involved in its governance structures, he was comfortable their presence would alleviate any concerns on the issue. Minister Robertson was comfortable to sign the briefing knowing this mitigation was in place.’
“A subsequent report from the Office of the Auditor-General in response to ACT’s complaint has been released today, saying that Jones “might have been better...not to confuse the situation by expressing a view on the Manea project when it came up for discussion.”
“The Auditor-General goes on to say: ‘Alternatively, if he was going to express a view, it would have been better if a record had been kept: explaining why he was taking part in the discussion; and confirming that his ministerial colleagues had agreed or asked him to participate, notwithstanding his conflict of interest.’
“The idea that millions of dollars of taxpayer funding can be allocated, with Ministers who have a conflict of interest playing a decisive role, makes a mockery of the Prime Minister’s claim to be running the most open and transparent government in New Zealand’s history.
“The Auditor-General’s report goes on to say that it does not ‘consider the exchange that took place between Mr Jones and Mr Robertson about the Manea project on 12 February 2018 raises any significant concerns about the decision to award the grant to the Manea project.’ The Office of the Auditor-General gives no reason for this conclusion. We can only imagine that it is reluctant to point the finger directly at a Cabinet Minister.
“Mr Jones has a chequered history in relation to the Manea project. In the past he has said he had no relationship, but declared a conflict of interest upon becoming a Minister. Despite that conflict of interest, he was interested enough to speak up for the project in a meeting where funding it was being discussed. No doubt he will now downplay his association again.
“ACT has led the opposition to corporate welfare consistently, no matter who has been in government. The problems with it are inherent. It involves politicians taking money from businesses that make a profit and pay tax and giving it to businesses that don’t. The potential for conflicts of interest, if not corruption, are endless. It would be far better to cut personal and company taxes, as ACT’s Freedom to Earn flat tax plan proposes, and let the people who earned the money decide how to invest it.
“The Prime Minister needs to ask, or be asked, why one standard applies to Mr Jones in relation to her Government’s promise to be ‘open and transparent’, while a much higher standard applies to Meka Whaitiri and Clare Curran.”