Are we surprised?

19/05/2021

We might have sympathy for a ‘technical anomaly’ that requires a law change because the government’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine went beyond what the Medicines Act allowed.

But that sympathy doesn’t extend to two other health related news items:

Auditor-General John Ryan has raised major doubts about whether everyone will be vaccinated for Covid-19 by the end of the year.

He has released his review of the government’s roll out plan, outlining several shortcomings in the government’s plan.

He outlined worries about enough supply, about the number of vaccinators, about reaching remote communities and about confusion among district health boards.

“Problems were inevitable for a rollout of the scale and complexity of this one,” Ryan said.

“I am not yet confident that all the pieces will fall into place quickly enough for the programme to ramp up to the level required over the second half of 2021. There is a real risk that it will take more time than currently anticipated to get there.”

The lack of vaccinators posed a “significant risk” to getting the rollout done on time, and the Ministry of Health should get moving on the non-regulated workforce – non-medical workers who would be trained to immunise, Ryan said. . .

It’s not difficult to share the AG’s lack of confidence when persisting issues with our contact tracing capacity, with staff during the so-called Valentine’s Day cluster at risk of burnout despite dealing with just a handful of cases.

Emergency planning documents from the February outbreak have been obtained, which show concerns were flagged about “limited resources” almost immediately. 

At the peak of the outbreak, with just 15 active community cases and 160 people to follow up within a day, the majority of staff were not working sustainable or appropriate hours. 

It’s raised concerns with how we’d cope with a significant outbreak – like what Taiwan is currently experiencing, with 700 local cases over the past week. . . 

It’s also raised concerns, added to by the AG’s report, that assurances that everyone who wants to be vaccinated by the end of the year will be.

If the Ministry can’t cope with a relatively small and localised challenge, how can we have confidence it will cope with a nationwide roll-out of the vaccine?

And are we surprised this looks like another government initiative where the promise won’t be matched by the delivery?


When lawmakers abuse the law

21/04/2021

Governments are supposed to make laws not abuse them:

The Auditor-General has confirmed the Labour Government unlawfully used millions of taxpayer dollars to settle the Ihumātao land dispute.

In response to a letter from National’s Housing spokesperson Nicola Willis, written in March, the Auditor-General has confirmed today that the $30 million deal to buy the disputed land from Fletchers was not done by the book.

“The Auditor-General’s report uncovers extremely dodgy behaviour from Labour Government Ministers as they tried to justify this spending,” Ms Willis says.

The Auditor-General’s inquiries have revealed that after Treasury officials refused to let the Government use money from the Land for Housing programme to make the Ihumātao payment, Ministers invented a completely new spending category: ‘Te Puke Tāpapatanga a Hape (Ihumātao)’ within Vote Housing and Urban Development in the Budget.

“They did this on February 9 but tried to keep it secret,” Ms Willis says. “The Auditor-General raised serious concerns about the way this was done, saying ‘the payment of $29.9 million was incurred without the proper authority’.

Tried to keep it secret? What happened to the most open and transparent government?

According to the Auditor-General, the Ministry did not seek the correct approvals for money in the Budget to be used in this way, making the payment unlawful until validated by Parliament as part of an Appropriation (Confirmation and Validation) Act, Ms Willis says.

“This is a disgraceful abuse of the law. Ministers are not a law unto themselves with authority to write cheques whenever they wish. They need to get the approval of Parliament first.

“But when it came to Ihumātao, the Labour Government decided the usual rules need not apply.”

The Auditor-General says the Housing Minister will now be required to explain the matter to the House of Representatives and seek validation of the expenditure from Parliament through legislation.

National’s Finance spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says this is a shocking abuse of privilege and of taxpayer funds by the Labour Government.

“We warned the Government all along that its treatment of the dispute was leading to awkward precedents, and here is the proof.

“Taxpayers aren’t a bank to be called upon to clean up the Government’s poor decisions, particularly when it is meddling in private property rights.

“The Prime Minister should never have involved herself in the Ihumātao dispute and stopped 480 much-needed houses from being built.

“National would protect the land owner’s property rights and ensure full and final treaty settlements are just that – full and final.”

You can read the Auditor General’s reply to Nicola Willis here.

He is quite clear that the payment was unlawful:

. . .In our view, the intent of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, and the intent of Ministers, was to establish a new appropriation that would provide authority for the purchase of the land at Ihumātao. However, because the Ministry did not seek the correct approvals, the expenditure was incurred without appropriation and without authority to use Imprest Supply. For these reasons, the payment is unlawful until validated by Parliament. . .

This started when the Prime Minister interfered in an illegal occupation with a total disregard for property rights and the urgent need for more houses.

As a result of her interference the occupation was prolonged, houses weren’t built and the taxpayer ended up with a $30m bill that the government paid unlawfully.

This wasn’t accidental or carelessness. It was deliberate and compounding the wrongdoing was using money set aside to build houses to stop houses being built.

What happens when lawmakers abuse the law in this way?

They will retrospectively approve the payment to validate it.

That will sort the legal issue and the government will ride out any political damage it’s inflicted on itself.

But it won’t build any houses and it won’t do anything to remedy the undermining of the principle that Treaty settlements are full and final.


Auditor General keeping closer eye on PGF

17/04/2019

The Auditor General is going to be keeping a closer eye on the Provincial Growth Fund:

Auditor-General John Ryan said Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) officials had been told to improve the management of the fund after an initial review found the risk of some payments going astray.

“We carried out some preliminary work to review how [MBIE] was administering the fund,” he said, adding that the review resulted in recommendations to improve the management of payments from the fund.

“The fund also requires appropriations to be managed by multiple government departments and organisations, which increases the risk of unappropriated expenditure.” . . 

The spending of any and all public funds ought to be given very close scrutiny.

The size of the PGF – $3 billion – makes it even more important to ensure that money doesn’t go astray, especially when there are so many questions about the rigour, or lack of it, applied to the hand-outs.


AG okays Dunne’s leader’s funding – updated

25/06/2013

United Future leader Peter Dunne can keep his leader’s funding – for now.

The Auditor General has confirmed that, for as long as the United Future party is recognised as a party for parliamentary purposes under Standing Orders, there is lawful authority for the party to receive party funding under the relevant legislation.

It follows that, if the Speaker ceases to recognise United Future as a party for parliamentary purposes, its funding entitlements will change accordingly.

Speaker David Carter is considering Dunne’s right to funding in view of the electoral Commission’s decision to treat UF’s application for re-registration as if it was a new party.

UPDATE:

The speaker has ruled that UF will no longer be recognised as a party for parliamentary purposes and its leader Peter Dunne will be treated as an independent MP.

David Carter made the announcement in the house today after giving it “considerable thought”. The ruling is effective immediately.

However, he said if the party were to regain its registration he would “revisit the matter of the recognition of its Parliamentary membership on the basis it is a political party in whose name a member was elected in the 2011 general election. . .

This would be a good time to look at the rules around leader’s funding and whether it is justified for the wee parties.


AG rules only when it suits

13/03/2013

A few short weeks ago Labour was demanding that the government stop the Sky City convention centre deal because of an Auditor General’s report.

The party is taking a far more cavalier approach to the report from the AG on Shane Jones’s behaviour as Assistant Immigration Minister.

The Auditor-General’s report into the Yang Liu affair is extremely damning of the way Shane Jones handled the issue, and calls into question David Shearer’s judgment in reinstating him to Labour’s front bench, Acting Prime Minister Bill English says.

“Within minutes of the report being tabled in Parliament this afternoon, we have David Shearer rushing out and reinstating Shane Jones,” he says.

“I can almost understand his haste, given the calibre of his caucus and his desire to keep David Cunliffe on the backbench. But it flies in the face of the Auditor-General’s conclusions about Mr Jones’ handling of Mr Liu’s citizenship application.”

For example, on page 66 of the report, the Auditor-General says of Mr Jones: “In our view, given that he knew there were ongoing investigations by Immigration and the New Zealand Police, he should also have consulted them before making his decision, as the investigators note of the first meeting suggested he was intending to do.

And on page 67, the report continues: “The decision to approve an urgent private ceremony, following so closely the decision to authorise the grant of citizenship against the recommendation of officials, caused a degree of consternation among the department’s staff. It added to the impression that Mr Liu was receiving special treatment.”

“Despite the criticism by the Auditor-General, David Shearer is now standing behind Shane Jones,” Mr English says.

“This is just a few weeks after he demanded the Government stop the Sky City Convention Centre project because of an Auditor-General’s report. He should look in his own party’s backyard first.”

Labour are happy to invoke the Auditor General only when it suits.

There was nothing illegal in what Jones did but it does look very sloppy.

This is his second strike, the first being charging the cost of pornographic movies to his parliamentary credit card. He’s been given another chance but will be on notice.

The AG’s report is here.

 


Little things are the big things

26/02/2010

A reading often used at wedding includes the line: the little things are the big things.

That is at least as applicable to politics as marriage.

A pair of underpants played a major role in Tuku Morgan’s undoing and a couple of bottles of wine led Phil Heatley to resign.

Yet Phillip Field hung on for months in the face of charges which eventually led to his conviction for corruption and Winston Peters clung on to the baubles of power with major questions over his behaviour and trustworthiness.

One reason that there’s been swifter action over something relatively trivial is that this is a different person and this is a different administration with different standards.

But why do little things become big things?

Perhaps because everyone can relate to little things, our own lives are full of them.

That’s one of the reasons the media focuses on what might seem to be very minor matters while giving at best cursory attention to major ones.

But little things are silly things. While never condoning major wrong doing we might understand how someone thought a big gain was worth the risk, but why bother for something trivial?

I’m pleased the Auditor General has been asked to examine all the spending.

I hope that regardless of what he finds she is able to make recommendations which ensure that misuse of credit cards, by ministers, their staff or anyone else in the public service is picked up immediately if it happens and repayment demanded.

It’s no use having rules if the people charged with applying them don’t do so without fear or favour.

Ministers should know the rules and keep them. But the system should provide a backstop should they get something wrong.


AG – better rules needed

29/10/2009

The Auditor General has ruled there are no grounds for an inquiry into Finance Minister Bill English’s housing arrangements.

However, the AG says the rules need to be improved and recommends:

that the aim be to develop a simple and sensible system for providing MPs and Ministers with appropriate support for the costs of their accommodation while in Wellington. The system should be:

  • clear and well explained;
  • grounded in principle, with a clear purpose and scope;
  • controlled by appropriate checks and limits;
  • transparent; and
  • seamless for those receiving the support, whether they are an MP or a Minister.

As with the administration of all public money, the system should also reflect the fundamental principles of accountability, transparency, fairness, and value for money. We emphasise that the system needs to be able to be understood not only by those administering it, but also by those to whom service is being provided, and by the general public who fund it.

We endorse the new practice of publicly releasing information at regular intervals on the various support arrangements for MPs and Ministers that are being funded by the public purse. It is an important step towards better transparency and accountability.

It is in the best interests of MPs and the public to have clear rules.

MPs should not be out of pocket if they have to maintain a house in their electorate and Wellington. However, Bill has decided that he will not receive any allowance, although he could legitimately claim one or live in a ministerial house at greater cost to the taxpayer.

“I’m determined to continue focusing on the things that matter to this Government – helping Kiwis into jobs and managing the economic recovery.

“To that end, I took the personal decision last month to voluntarily repay all of the housing allowance I’ve received since the election. I’m now receiving no housing allowance – that’s my decision.”

Bill has been exonerated by the Auditor General. He has also made the right decision on this.

Running the country and getting the economy growing again are too important to be distracted by sideshows generated by the opposition which is making personal attacks because they have nothing political to get their teeth in to.


You’ve gotta know when to hold up . . .

19/02/2009

. . . know when to fold up, know when to walk away . . .

dairy-1

Garrick Tremain’s cartoon, printed several days ago, shows that then Otago District Health Board chair Richard Thomson didn’t heed the words of the Gambler.

He didn’t accept the invitation to walk so Health Minister Tony Ryall relieved him of his chairmanship.

The ODT doesn’t agree  with that decision:

While Mr Ryall’s demands for accountability are understandable, he picked the wrong scapegoat.

. . . It was other executives and senior staff who, surely, carried far more responsibility, particularly because warnings about Swann were not passed on.

But the Minister of Health has no control over any of these people so is it possible he’s using  one of few weapons in his armoury – the right to appoint, and disappoint, the chair – to encourage the board to take further action which he can’t?

The Minister of Corrections Judith Collins is similarly constrained over the continuing employment of Barry Matthews in spite of a damning report from the auditor general about the department he heads. He is answerable to her but she is not his employer so it is up to the State Services Commission to sack him, or not.

The Prime Minister supports his minister  :

“The New Zealand public is entitled to expect accountability, and quite frankly, that report made such damning reading they can have no confidence at this point that the department is following an approved set of procedures that they promised they would follow.”

The operative word is accountability.

It’s not blame or responsibility, and anyone with the ability to chair a board or lead a government department ought to understand that, and to know that it is better to fold up and walk with dignity than to wait to have your cards taken from you.


But they still owe us

05/09/2008

Some of the money donated  to New Zealand First went to pay back the $158,000 the party mis-spent at the last election.

The mysterious big-money donation that spurred Winston Peters’ infamous “no” press conference was $80,000 and went towards helping to put right New Zealand First’s wrongful spending at the last election.

But exactly whose $80,000 it is remains hidden behind the Spencer Trust – the entity already exposed as host to donations from Sir Robert Jones and the Vela brothers.

The money was paid to NZ First last December and the Herald understands it went towards the $158,000 the party should have refunded to the taxpayer after the Auditor-General found it had wrongfully spent. NZ First gave the sum to charity instead.

The donation is now likely to be investigated by police as NZ First breached the law by not declaring it to the Electoral Commission as required with all donations over $10,000.

Oh the irony – the donation which is started all the trouble, was meant to pay back money which should not have been spent in the first place, and still hasn’t gone back to parliamentary services so the party is still in debt to the tax payer.

And of course until the party does settle its debt to us, every cent it spends on campaigning is our cent, and tells us that New Zealand First thinks getting re-elected is more imortant than repaying the tax payers’ money it should not have spent in the first place.


West Coast Trust dysfunctional

08/08/2008

The Auditor Gerneral has called on trustees of the West Coast Development Trust to sort out their problems or stand down.

He says the Trust which was set up to administer $92 million given to the Coast to compensate for the ban on logging native forests, is so dysfunctional and divided that it can’t be trusted to do its job.

The auditor-general’s report released today paints a picture of trustees infighting with allegations of corruption being thrown around and counter-allegations of leaking confidential information.

The auditor-general said the situation was so serious that trustees should sort it out immediately or just stand down.

“Unlike other public entities with elected board, there is no other ready mechanism for resolving this level of dysfunction,” the report said.

“Until we see evidence that the group of trustees is able to take effective collective responsibility for the governance of the trust, we are unable to provide assurance that the trust is able to deliver fully on its purpose of generating sustainable employment opportunities and economic benefits for the people of the West Coast.”

A trust fund is a poor substitute for business and I suspect the logging ban may also have had negative environmental consequences.

The ban was a dog whistle political appeal to mainly urban, liberal, green (and Green) voters but I wonder if it was a not-in-my-back-yard approach to conservation which protects our forests but does more damage to others. The ban stopped the sustainable logging of native trees on the Coast, and the pest control which went with it. But has it also resulted in the increase of imported timber from clear-felled rain forests?


Let’s not forget the $158,000 debt

29/07/2008

In all the excitement over whether or not Winston Peters and NZ First received donations which ought to have been declared, let’s not forget there is no question that they took $158,000 from the taxpayer for their 2005 election campaign and have yet to pay it back to Parliamentary Services.

The Auditor General found it was illegal at the time and the fact that NZ First supported Labour to make it legal in retrospect does not make it right. Nor do the donations which Peters says have been given to charity cancel out the debt to the taxpayer.

Until the money is repaid, every cent Peters and his party spend on their campaigns is a cent they owe to the tax payer and that tells us they think getting re-elected is more important than repaying what they owe.


NZ First still owes $158,000

16/06/2008

One criticism of MMP is that the wee parties have a disproportionate influence. Allied to that is that National and Labour sometimes hold back legitimate criticism of their actions just in case they need their support.

We’re seeing that now – has anyone seen or heard any of the other parties react to Winston Peters’ statement that NZ First has donated $158,000 to charities and has given a list of the recipients to Speaker Margaret Wilson?

That just happens to be the amount the Auditor General found NZ First spent illegally before the last election. The party can do whatever its members allow it to do with their money, but donating to charity does not discharge its debt to Parliamentary Services.

While other parties are shying from tackling Peters’ on this, several blogs are not:

Kiwiblog posts on it here   noting NZ First is the party of transparancy which receives secret donations that turns out not to be a donation and then makes its own secret donations. Kiwiblog also comments on Peters’ on Agenda here. He notes that the Speaker wants Parliament to be more open so in good faith should make the list available.

The Hive says shame on the charities and asks if they’d accept the proceeds of crime or theft? Queen Bee, prompted by Poneke, points out the speaker’s office is exempt from the OIA but urges National and Act to ask Wilson for the list.

Inquiring Mind ‘s  Adam Smith says:

No one seems to be prepared to hold Winston Peters to account.

Why is he being allowed to get away with not repaying the $158,000 of public funds that his party mis-used at the 2005 election? 

Why is he keeping secret what he has done with the money?

Where did the party get the $158,000 from?

NO, NO, NO and forever NO is what voters should be saying to this bullying popinjay.

Keeping Stock notes the irony in the noise NZ First made about transparency in political party funding, asks does it practise what it preaches,  and points out the hyprocricy because it doesn’t.

The Auditor General found NZ First illegally spent $158,000. That they then helped Labour change the law to make that illegal spending legal and has said they’ve donated that amount to charity does not excuse them from the need to repay the money.

Until they do that every cent the party spends on campaigning is a cent they have yet to repay to the public purse.


If United’s Wrong NZ First is Worse

08/06/2008

While we’re asking why anyone would vote for United Future  if they spend money on their campaign until they fully repay the taxpayers’ money they wrongly spent before the last election, we need to be even tougher on NZ First.

United might not agree with Auditor General Kevin’s Brady’s ruling that it wrongly used public funds in 2005, but it has accepted his ruling and the need to repay the debt it owes. NZ First not only refuses to admit it did anything wrong, it won’t accept the AG’s ruling nor has it any intention of repaying the money.

Leader Winston Peters’ scheme, to donate to the Starship Foudnation the $158,000  the AG found it spent illegally instead of repaying it, went sour when the Foundation rejected the cheque. Since then he’s said the money is going to other charities but refuses to say which ones because of the bad publicity over the Starship donation.

If NZ First wishes to make a donation to a chairty, providing the party’s rules don’t preclude this, it is entitled to do so. Some who given to the party to further its political aims may question why their money is going to a charity, or charities, instead but that is between them and the party.

It is however, taxpayers’ business that this party, led by the Minister of Foreign Affiars, is making no attempt to repay the money it wrongly spent three years ago.

Peters’ is right that the self-serving change of law  means that spending is no longer illegal; but retrospectively legal or not it was wrong then and still is now. Until the party admits this and pays it back every cent up to $158,000 which NZ First spends on its campaign is a slap in the face for taxpayers because until the debt is fully repaid each of those cents ought to put back in the public purse instead.


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