A forestry company with close links to New Zealand First says it gave a presentation to Shanne Jones about a project it was seeking a $15 million government loan for – months before Jones says he first heard of it.
When NZ Future Forest Products (NZFFP) applied for Provincial Growth Fund money on 8 April, 2019, the company was asked whether the project had been “previously discussed” with the government.
The application form shows NZFFP ticked the ‘yes’ box and said it had made a “presentation to the Minister” about its forestry and wood processing plans “including descriptions of the applicant”.
Jones, a New Zealand First MP who is forestry minister and the minister responsible for the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund, has consistently claimed he first heard about the NZFFP bid on 14 October last year. . .
Jones refused to be interviewed over the latest revelation but in a statement said the presentation never happened. “There was no presentation as described by the applicants,” he said.
The statement said Jones “did not have any Ministerial meetings to discuss the application”.
After being asked if he had any meetings at all with any NZFFP representatives in 2019, he responded in a statement “no”. He went on to say he was “not involved in PGF-related conversations with the Henrys under the guise of NZFFP”.
But in an interview with RNZ, David Henry, who is Brian Henry’s son and the NZFFP director who signed the application form, said the presentation was a 15-minute meeting he and Jones had in Wellington.
“We had a discussion with Shane. I think it was about a 15-minute chat. Whether you want to call it a briefing or a presentation – it was a short discussion generally about the New Zealand wood supply chain and what we personally believed.” . .
The application was turned down, but National’s Regional Development spokesperson Chris Bishop says that still leaves questions to be answered:
“While no money changed hands, the process is even more important than the substantive outcome because of the close links between those involved and the historical murkiness of Shane Jones’ $3 billion slush fund.”
That is the nub of the problem – the PGF is a slush fund with few if any of the checks and balances in the allocation process which ought to precede any spending of taxpayers’ funds.