If not sacking AG must investigate

March 11, 2019

Shane Jones is in another spot of bother:

After declaring a conflict of interest in a proposed Northland cultural centre, Shane Jones sat through a meeting when ministerial colleagues decided on its multi-million dollar funding application, even giving reassurance about its governance.

Manea, Footprints of Kupe was among the first group of projects to be awarded cash from the Provincial Growth Fund, a $1 billion a year fund secured in coalition negotiations between Labour and NZ First, which is coming under increasing criticism. . . 

He has repeatedly said he stepped back from having involvement in the project and denied advocating for it.

But documents quietly posted on the website of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) showed that Jones attended what appears to be the single ministerial meeting to determine the application.

“Minister [of Finance Grant] Robertson raised his concerns about the broader management and commercial operations of the project,” MBIE official Mark Patterson wrote.

“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.”

Patterson added that MBIE would manage other concerns through milestone payments.

“Minister Robertson was comfortable to sign the briefing knowing this mitigation was in place.”

Less than a month after Davis announced the funding, Jones was asked by Act leader David Seymour whether he had held any discussions with his ministerial colleagues about Manea.

“I asked my colleagues to make the decision on that project in order to manage a conflict of interest”.

Later he said he “noted” the involvement of Far North Holdings to colleagues.

On Friday, Jones insisted he purely offered “statements of fact” in the meeting and he believed he had managed his conflict of interest, but acknowledged others would consider it appropriate to exit meetings altogether.

“You can physically exit or you can declare a conflict and let colleagues deal with the issue,” Jones said.

“I don’t believe my presence in any meeting with three other powerful ministers has any deterrent effect.” . . 

He might believe that but it doesn’t stop the perception that he used his influence when he declared a conflict of interest and ought to have not even been in the room.

[Act leader David] Seymour said the documents suggested Jones “was decisive” in seeing the funding go ahead to an organisation he had a prior association with.

“He actually provided reassurance to his colleagues, which is at stark odds with  his repeated assurances in Parliamentary questions that he’d recused himself from any role,” Seymour said, claiming Jones had breached the Cabinet manual.

“I don’t see how you can continue to be a minister when something as simple as a conflict of interest, you can’t manage.”

On Sunday morning, Seymour, called for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to sack Jones.

“Shane Jones not only involved himself in an application in relation to which he had a conflict of interest, he also concealed this key meeting in answer to a written parliamentary question,” Seymour said.

Clare Curran was eventually sacked for a similar transgression.

National’s regional development spokesman Paul Goldsmith said it defeated the purpose of declaring a conflict of interest and delegating responsibility, “if a minister then engages fully in favour of a project which Shane Jones appears to have done”.

“We need a full explanation from Shane Jones of his involvement in this project from start to finish.” . . 

 Seymour and the Taxpayers’ Union have both called for the Auditor General to investigate:

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “Ministers have it drilled into them that when it comes to decisions that involve a personal interest, they shouldn’t be in the room, let alone provide advice and ‘reassurances’. Shane Jones’ behaviour will give taxpayers zero confidence that the Growth Fund is being spent impartially or for economic good.”

“Businesses across the country will look at this example, along with other Growth Fund handouts, and figure that the key to profitability is cosy relationships with the political class. That is the path to cronyism and corruption.”

“The Prime Minister mustn’t let her Government’s reliance on NZ First lead to an open season on taxpayer funds. She should call in the Auditor General to investigate Shane Jones’ actions, and be prepared to strip him of his Regional Economic Development portfolio if necessary.” . . 

The Provincial Growth Fund is a $3 billion fund which has been criticised several times for doling out money without the usual cost-benefit appraisal and rigour which should precede largesse with taxpayers’ money.

The Prime Minister dilly-dallied before sacking Clare Curran.

Given the sensitivities with New Zealand First, it is unlikely she will act on the calls to sack the minister over this matter so it is up to the Auditor General to investigate.


PM there and here

September 27, 2018

Happy headlines are following Jacinda Ardern in New York.

Back home the media are looking past the stardust to the continuing saga over Derek Handley and the position of Chief Technology Officer he was appointed to then disappointed from.

NZ Herald opines:

There can be no doubt the Derek Handley saga is a train wreck that is now threatening to derail confidence in the Government.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern may have been hoping she could leave the domestic turmoil of the past few weeks behind her, while she – with partner Clarke Gayford and baby Neve – wows world leaders and their delegations at the United Nations in New York.

But she clearly wasn’t banking on tech entrepreneur Derek Handley yesterday releasing his text and email communications with her and former Minister for Government Digital Services Clare Curran, and speaking further about the whole sorry saga – including bemoaning his lack of apology or explanation in the matter of the bungled chief technology officer recruitment process.

Possibly Ardern thought sacking Curran from that ministerial post – and Curran’s subsequent resignation from all her ministerial portfolios – was enough to put the incident to rest.

However, yesterday the PM found herself having to fend off accusations she had misled Parliament over her own communications with Handley, Finance Minister Grant Robertson was forced to correct his answer in Parliament over emails between Handley and Curran, and new Digital Services Minister Megan Woods was clearly forced to finally call Handley to apologise for the “impact this has had on him and his family”. She also had to retract her statement there had been a confidentiality agreement with Handley over his financial settlement.

What a shemozzle.

It still doesn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion for anyone – if indeed this end of the matter. . .

This is a serious black mark for the Government. The overall unease around communication, competency and transparency over this issue is now raising questions about the PM’s leadership and the Government’s integrity in general. . .

Audrey Young writes:

It is becoming a habit – for the second time in three weeks, National leader Simon Bridges has accused Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of misleading the public.

This time she has also been accused of misleading Parliament as well as the public and Bridges has demanded she correct her statements.

Ardern put up a strenuous defence on both counts that there was no need for corrections. . .

But Kiwiblog quotes Hansard: and shows on the 18th and 19th of September in answer to questions from National leader SImon Bridges that taking the most generous view of what she said, she was at the very least economical with the truth.

Back to Young:

Until now, the fiasco, mainly over an undisclosed meeting, had reflected badly on Curran but the contagion has spread to Ardern and made the Government look amateurish.

Grant Robertson had to correct an answer in the House today he gave last week on Clare Curran’s emails to Handley and Woods had to retract a suggestion that the severance contract with Handley may have been subject to a confidentiality clause.

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters swore blind Ardern was blameless of anything and everything.

True, she will not have to correct any answers she has given to Parliament.

But that is almost irrelevant because even if she did, it would not undo the damage she has done to herself.

A train wreck, a schemozzle,  a fiasco. These aren’t adjectives any government wants applied to them.

But nearly a year into office, the one that explains the mess is amateurish.

 


Messier and messier

September 15, 2018

Former minister Clare Curran’s mismanagement has cost taxpayers $107,000.

Dumped chief technology officer candidate Derek Handley has been paid out more than $100,000 in compensation by the Government, Digital Services Minister Megan Woods has confirmed.

Woods said the Government had agreed to pay Handley compensation totalling $107,500 after deciding to put the recruitment process for the country’s first national chief technology officer on hold and “rethinking the role”. 

Woods issued the statement after Handley said the Government had reneged on a commitment to give him the job and paid him three months’ salary, and costs, as compensation.

Handley said he had decided not to keep the money, and would instead donate it towards a fund to support ideas, programmes and grants to tackle “digital inequality”.

Former communications minister Clare Curran resigned first from Cabinet and then as minister after it emerged she met Handley in February to discuss the job and then “omitted” to document the meeting in response to a parliamentary question.

Handley said he was “offered and accepted” the job – which had been billed as offering a salary of up to $400,000 plus a $100,000 travel budget – a month ago.

“Earlier this week I was deeply disappointed to learn that the Government will no longer follow through with their commitment and will not be making that appointment at this time.”  . .

 National’s State Services spokesperson Nick Smith sums it up:

. . .“The process around appointing a Chief Technology Officer has been a shambles from the beginning. It involved secret meetings and emails, the resignation of Minister Clare Curran and now we’re paying Derek Handley around $100,000 for a job he never even started.

“The Government must now come clean with the hidden emails from Clare Curran and the Prime Minister so we know the full story of how badly this was handled.

“The CTO is the flagship of the Government’s IT policy and was budgeted to cost the taxpayer over $500,000 per year. Now if it still goes ahead we can add a pay out of over $100,000 because of the Government’s incompetence.    . .

Point of Order calls this a disgraceful  saga, one  which  has  few parallels  in the history  of state-sector  appointments.

Curran’s resignation as a minister ought to have put this particular mess behind the government, but the mess just keeps getting messier and more expensive.

 


Lying by omission

September 7, 2018

Remember Jacinda Ardern saying in a pre-elections debate she wouldn’t lie?

What would she call this?

Jacinda Ardern insisted in an interview today that she would not fire Clare Curran – but the Prime Minister had accepted the errant MP’s resignation the night before.

The under-fire Curran has quit as a minister, saying the pressure on her had become “intolerable”. She becomes the first casualty in the Ardern administration.

Ardern told Newstalk ZB’s Chris Lynch – in an interview recorded at 8am this morning – that she would not fire Curran.

But it has now emerged the errant minister told Ardern last night that she would quit – and Ardern accepted her resignation.

When asked by reporters in Gisborne today about her comment to Newstalk ZB, Ardern said: “The question that I was asked this morning was whether I’d asked her to resign, and the answer was no.” . . .

Courts require people to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Omitting to tell the whole truth isn’t lying by commission but it is lying by omission.

And it was unnecessary.

The resignation was given, and accepted, last night, giving plenty of time for anyone who needed to know before the public knew to be told.

Delaying the announcement was poor political management that led the PM to knowingly mislead the public and seriously contradicts the government’s aim to be open and transparent.


Minister down

September 7, 2018

The Labour NZ First Green government has lost its first minister:

Embattled Dunedin South MP Clare Curran has resigned as Minister, saying the pressure on her has become “intolerable”.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced just after midday today she had accepted Ms Curran’s resignation after two failures to properly record meetings and this week’s stumbled response in Parliament to questions about her personal use of email. . .

The pressure was of her own making.

To do the wrong thing once might be considered a mistake that might, if one was being charitable, be blamed on inexperience. Although, charitable or not, when it cost a senior public servant her job it was a very big mistake.

To do the same wrong thing twice can’t be blamed on inexperience, it’s a sign of serious incompetence and no government can afford incompetent ministers.


Um, ah, ah

September 6, 2018

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern might still have confidence in Clare Curran but the minister doesnt’ appear to have confidence in herself:

. . . Curran stumbled over her answers in Parliament’s debating chamber, as she was forced to admit that Government business was conducted on her personal email. She was not forthcoming with a response about why she used her Gmail account for official business from “time to time”. 

Asked “what Government business has she conducted via her Gmail account”, Curran appeared flustered and claimed she’d answered the question before being told by the Speaker she had to answer it directly – she then required Lee to ask it again. 

Curran answered: “To the best of my recollection, um, ah, ah, I haven’t, um, I haven’t used my, um I’ve answered um OIA, ah, ah, OIA responses and personal, um and parliamentary questions correctly and to the best of my recollection, um, ah, you know, that, that has, that’s what I’ve done.”

It pales in comparison to the email controversy surrounding former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during her 2016 presidential run against US President Donald Trump, but has raised similar questions over security and transparency of information.  . .

When you read Nick Smith’s speech in Tuesday’s snap debate about Curren’s sacking, it is easy to see why she might be lacking confidence in herself:

“We have a Minister of Open Government—actually, the very first Minister of Open Government that’s ever existed in this Parliament—and the promise of the Minister of Open Government was to be the most open and transparent Government that this country has ever had, and then what we find out from that Minister is that not once but twice that Minister behaved in a secretive, in a sneaky, and in a dirty way.

“Now, let’s come to the events that have led to Clare Curran’s resignation as the Minister of Open Government. Firstly, we had the incident with Radio New Zealand.

“Let’s understand how important that is. A free, politically neutral media goes to the heart of how our democracy works.

“We are not …  one of those countries where we have a State media that just spins the Government line, like you might get in a North Korea or a Zimbabwe. Here we have Clare Curran having private, secret meetings with the head of news—not some public servant.

“What is the Minister of Broadcasting doing having meetings—secret meetings—with the head of news at Radio New Zealand? There wouldn’t be a member in this House, not even my newest colleagues, that wouldn’t have a feeling that, well, that doesn’t feel quite right. ‘I’m the Minister of Broadcasting; I shouldn’t really be having secret meetings with the head of Radio New Zealand news.’

“But here’s the part that has me gobsmacked: the week after this Parliament admonishes her for being dishonest about the secret meeting, guess what Clare Curran does? She arranges another secret meeting, this time wearing the portfolio as the Minister of Digital Technologies.

“I’ve been here for 28 years. I’ve seen some Ministers goof it up. What I have never seen is a dicky Minister commit exactly the same crime just one week after there’s a massive controversy.

“Now there are only two possibilities here. Either she’s dumb, or she’s dishonest. I’m sorry, there can only be two explanations for that course of events that has occurred. . . 

Dumb or dishonest?

Oh dear, neither of those are qualifications for a minister inside or outside Cabinet and it says little for Ardern’s judgement that she couldn’t see that.

By taking the soft option of demoting Curren from Cabinet but allowing her to stay on as a minister, Ardern has made her a target and bought herself an on-going headache.

And while we’re not he subject of ministers who are out of their depth, this exchange between National’s Chris Finlayson and Labour’s deputy Kelvin Davis is instructive:


From misfortune to carelessness

August 30, 2018

The government has lost a second minister in less than a week:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has accepted Minister Meka Whaitiri’s offer to stand aside from her portfolios, while an investigation is carried out into a staffing matter in her office.

Newshub understands the probe follows allegations of a physical incident with another staff member in her office, which involved some shoving. . . .

The announcement comes just six days after Ms Ardern removed Minister Clare Curran from Cabinet for failing to disclose a meeting she had in relation to the Government’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role. . .

If Lady Bracknell was commenting on events of this week, she might well say, To lose one minister may be regarded as misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness.


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