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Waste Watch

The Taxpayers’ Union is encouraging political and government insiders to ‘dob in’ examples of government waste and extravagance. Experience of taxpayer groups overseas suggests that many of the best tips come from within government, particularly bureaucrats frustrated with waste and inefficiency. We put the government – politicians, officials and taxpayer-funded groups on notice that taxpayer money should treated with care. The Taxpayers’ Union guarantees the anonymity of all members of the public who submit information via the tip line.

Yule set to cost ratepayers $100k if elected to Parliament

Taxpayers are on the hook for between $90,000 and $100,000 in by-election costs in the case of Lawrence Yule being selected as the National Party's Tuki Tuki candidate and subsequently elected in this year's general election. This figure was revealed after we asked the council for its calculation of the anticipated costs of such an election.

While no price can be put on democracy, the figure puts into perspective the promises to not make a tilt at Parliament that Mr Yule made when seeking to be re-elected last year as mayor of Hastings.  It's obvious that Mr Yule should have been upfront at the time, given the huge costs that are now likely to fall on ratepayers.

With sitting councillors likely to contest the Mayoralty, ratepayers could be hit a second time round too, in the event a second by-election is required to fill a Council seat.  It could be a double whammy.

The correspondence can be viewed here.

 

 

Australian Government pulls plug on Clinton Foundation funding

lthm.gifWith news that the Clinton Foundation is laying off 22 staffers due to the discontinuation of the Clinton Global Initiative, we have revealed that the Australian Government is cutting all financial ties with the Clinton Global Health Initiative.

In 2014 Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced that the Australian Government had committed to five years of financial support for the Clinton Health Access Initiative, the sister organisation of the Clinton Foundation.  By last year however, that funding had stopped, with the Australian Government jumping ship very soon after Donald Trump’s victory in the US election. 

News.com.au reported late last year that:

AUSTRALIA has finally ceased pouring millions of dollars into accounts linked to Hillary Clinton’s charities.

Which might make you wonder: Why were we donating to them in the first place?

The federal government confirmed to news.com.au it has not renewed any of its partnerships with the scandal-plagued Clinton Foundation, effectively ending 10 years of taxpayer-funded contributions worth more than $88 million.

The Clinton Foundation has a rocky past. It was described as “a slush fund”, is still at the centre of an FBI investigation and was revealed to have spent more than $50 million on travel.

Despite that, the official website for the charity shows contributions from both AUSAID and the Commonwealth of Australia, each worth between $10 million and $25 million.

News.com.au approached the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for comment about how much was donated and why the Clinton Foundation was chosen as a recipient.

A DFAT spokeswoman said all funding is used “solely for agreed development projects” and Clinton charities have “a proven track record” in helping developing countries.

Australia jumping ship is part of a post-US election trend away from the former Secretary of State and presidential candidate’s fundraising ventures.

The news follows our petition launched last week calling on Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully to veto MFAT’s plans to give another $5.5 million of NZ Aid Money to the Clinton Health Access Initiative, an affiliate of the Clinton Foundation. The petition has attracted nearly two and half thousand signatures and can be signed at: http://www.taxpayers.org.nz/clinton_petition

NZ Aid should be going to programmes that are the most effective and efficient in achieving our aid objectives. Channelling money through entities established by international politicians is not a proven effective and efficient method of giving aid to those who most need it.

It is simply bad practice for MFAT to give Aid money to an entity so closely associated with politics and politicians. The money would be much better going straight to an organisation like the Red Cross.
 
The Australians have stopped - so why haven't we?

Government set to give Clinton Foundation another $5.5 million

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The Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that the Government has budgeted to give another $5.5 million dollars of taxpayers’ money to the controversial Clinton Foundation, despite Mrs Clinton’s failed US Presidential bid and controversy over improper ties between the Clinton Foundation, the State Department and donations from foreign governments to the foundation while Ms Clinton was US Secretary of State.

Figures obtained by the Taxpayers’ Union under the Official Information Act show that to date Kiwi taxpayers have forked out $7.7 million to the Clinton Foundation’s “Health Access Initiative” with $2.5 million and $3 million earmarked for 2017 and 2018 respectively.

Given the lessons of the Saudi Sheep saga, we are staggered that MFAT appear to still think handing out money for diplomatic purposes is sensible.  Even worse, this money comes from the NZ Aid budget which should be going to programes which are the most effective at helping the world’s poor - not sidetracked into political objectives.

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It is possible that officials have reason to believe that the Clinton Foundation’s work does provide good value for money, although given the controversy in the US that seems unlikely. The refusal to front up and explain leaves a stench of buying political access.

Given New Zealand’s faux pas in co-sponsoring the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel on Christmas Eve, and the heavy criticism of New Zealand which has resulted, the continued support of the Clinton Foundation risks even more damage to New Zealand’s ability to wield any influence in the US.

The MFAT response to the Taxpayers’ Union information referred to above is available here.

* Update - claims of 'separate legal entity' *

After a brouhaha on twitter and blogs running MFAT's spin about the  “Health Access Initiative” being a "separate legal entity" from the Clinton Foundation, we've issued a press release clarifying the situtaiton:

 

MEDIA RELEASE

MFAT EXCUSES RE CLINTON FOUNDATION 'NONSENSE ON STILTS'

The excuse justifying the millions of taxpayer dollars the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) will pay the Clinton Health Access Initiative that it is a “separate legal entity” to the Clinton Foundation is pathetic says the Taxpayers’ Union.

Earlier today the Taxpayers’ Union released a response to an Official Information Act request to MFAT which showed that in addition to the $7.7 million already paid, the Government has budgeted another $5.5 million of NZ Aid money for the Clinton Health Access Initiative.

Executive Director of the Taxpayers’ Union, Jordan Williams, says, “This excuse from MFAT is nonsense on stilts and they know it.  The Clinton Health Access Initiative is a subsidiary of the Clinton Foundation and is responsible for appointing the board members."

“Government spin doctors can try to dance on the head of a pin to justify MFAT's actions, but the fact is the two entities are even described on their own websites as 'affiliated entities'. The Clinton Foundation controls the organisation Kiwi taxpayers are funding."

In September, the New York Times reported that the Initiative would be separated if Clinton won the US Presidential election. The relevant article is available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/15/us/politics/clinton-foundation-staff.html.

Also available is the most recent publicly available income tax return for the Clinton Health Access Initiative which discloses that the Clinton Foundation is a “Related tax-exempt organization” and appoints members of the board of the Clinton Health Access Initiative (refer to pages 73 to 75 of the document available at http://bit.ly/2jgeLOc).

* Update 2 - petition calling for McCully to veto funding *

Following feedback from a number of members and supporters who emailed or phoned our office, we have launched a petition calling on the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully to veto MFAT giving anymore NZ Aid money to the Clinton Initiative.

You can sign the petition here.

Absolutely, positively wasteful: Wellington City Council shindig costs $51K (with video)

The Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that a Wellington City Council party, just weeks prior to the local body elections, to celebrate the signing of its new “sister city” agreement with Canberra, cost Wellington City ratepayers more than $51,000. The total cost included $14,850 spent on fashion models, ballet dancers and “contemporary performers” with $30,079.38 on “production costs” at the Public Trust Building to turn it into a party venue.

Whilst Wellington City Council blows tens of thousands on showy parties with dancers, drag-queens and DJs, ratepayers have been struck with annual rates increases of over 5% per year. Who on earth approved a two-hour shin-dig for 131 people, where the venue alone cost $30,000?

The Council says that sister city agreements bring economic opportunities to Wellington, but the vast majority of the guest list were those from the public sector.  It seems it was more about a lavish farewell party for the Mayor, rather than anything to do with promoting Wellington to Canberra.

If the Council genuinely wanted to promote economic growth in Wellington, it would learn to tighten its belt and cut out glitzy junkets like these. It defies belief that Councilors were not aware of the staggering costs of this party before it was held. They refused to answer our questions about who precisely was responsible for this Hollywood-style party on the ratepayer.

If you weren’t invited to the Sister City party, but paid for it, check out the highlight video of the evening below. You can also real the Council's response to the Taxpayers' Union request for official information here

Taxpayers forking out $683k per year for bureaucrats to watch SKY

Central and local government agencies are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money every year on subscription TV services.

The data for the last financial year shows some agencies such as KiwiRail and Auckland Council spending close to $50,000 each on TV subscriptions. The total for the agencies surveyed equals $682,525. 

The numbers we’ve uncovered show that bureaucrats either don’t have enough work to do, or are wasting money on Sky TV for luxurious staff rooms. Either way this represents a significant waste of taxpayers’ money.

When our researchers were collecting the information, the Chief Executive of Otorohanga District Council wrote to us saying that he could not imagine local authorities spending money on a TV subscriptions. If only that were true. Our research shows that councils spent over $200,000 of ratepayers’ money on Sky TV alone.

Politicians in Wellington also seem to be to enjoy having the taxpayer pick up the tab for their Sky TV bills. Parliamentary and Ministerial Services spent over $56,000 last year to ensure MPs received the service, including Sky Sport. Why every Beehive office needs taxpayer funded sport channels is far from clear. 

The New Zealand Transport Agency has set the example. It wasted $20,000 in the 2014/15 financial year on Sky TV but cancelled all its subscriptions last year. We say other departments should follow its lead.

While for some agencies SKY TV is justified — entertaining patients in hospitals for example — we have to question why back-room office workers like NZTA, KiwiRail and the Reserve Bank are spending so much of taxpayers’ money on TV shows.

Upper Hutt Mayor responds to criticism

hairdresser_1_.jpgOver the weekend we revealed more Upper City Council corporate welfare 'economic development' grants amounting to $375,000 of ratepayers’ money. Joining Burger Fuel, grant recipients include Subway, Vogue (a clothing store), Bed Bath and Beyond, and even a hairdresser!

Stuff.co.nz covered our comments here:

"It is economic trickery benefiting only the favoured businesses.

"Take the example of Prodigy Hair. There are at least 29 hairdressing firms in Upper Hutt, but the council picks this one out for a handout."

Previously, the council defended its corporate welfare scheme on the basis that it was creating jobs, Williams said.

"Of course the politicians and officials ignore that every cent is drained from the very community they are claiming to help. It is intellectually dishonest. 

"Upper Hutt ratepayers are smart enough to see that this isn't economic development, it's robbing the poor to pay the rich."

To respond, Mayor Wayne Guppy spoke to Newstalk ZB's Larry Williams tonight just prior to the political Huddle with our Executive Director Jordan Williams and Vernon Tava.

 

Ratepayer-funded fashion advice at Auckland Council

Back-office Council staff have been receiving chic stylist advice courtesy of Auckland ratepayersweb-image.png

Despite the Council cutting services and library hours, the council seemingly has money for make-up and fashion advice for back-office accounting staff.

Material we’ve just released us show that the Council accountancy team hired image consultants Fox & Mae to run “Brand Me” sessions for the back office team to learn about grooming at work, what to wear and smart-casual Fridays.

Most employers expect their employees to be tidy and well presented, even if they are a back-office worker. Image consultants are normally employed by celebrities, the very wealthy, and front-facing staff who are acting in a front-facing role.

It is sadly ironic that the accountancy team, the very people whose job it is to keep Council spending under control, have been wasting money on what looks to be ratepayer-funded fashion and make-up advice.

HPA spends $1.2 million on "Not Beersies" campaign

Today we released documents which detail the cost and focus group feedback on the ridiculous “Not Beersies” campaign by the Health Promotion Agency.

The documents show that:

  1. the campaign had the least positive impact on entrenched, high-risk drinkers;
  2. it instead targets those least likely to face harm from alcohol consumption;
  3. the HPA spent at least $1.2 million on the campaign (we say at least because officials refused to tell us how much advertising agency fees taxpayers covered; and
  4. the HPA conducts no cost benefit analysis on its campaigns. 

The Taxpayers’ Union had feedback that the ‘Not Beersies' ads were making people thirsty for beer. Some participants in the Agency’s own focus groups said the same - that the ads encouraged drinking or were confusing.

Is promoting a cultural change now synonymous with health promotion?

The Health Promotion Agency acknowledge that the campaign probably won’t reduce alcohol consumption and won't affect the most at-risk of alcohol harm - but they spent the money anyway.

The HPA spent over $1.2 million of taxpayers’ money in order to promote a ‘culture change’. No wonder no one bothered to do a cost benefit analysis.

It’s a creative campaign, but it’s using taxpayers’ money for social engineering rather than for the purpose of reducing harm or promoting health. The documents show that the HPA knew that they were woefully off the mark. They pushed ahead and spent the money anyway.

In December the Advertising Standards Authority received a complaint from an individual who incorrectly thought the ads were promoting beer. The campaign has also been publicly labelled "sexist and offensive" and with claims they miss the point as beer consumption continues to fall. Cleary the campaign message has become confused and contorted.

We think the campaign is an own goal. What do you think? Does the HPA and its ad agency have more money than they know what to do with? Should the Government be requiring the HPA to justifiy its budget and force it to invest in measures that actually reduce harm? Let us know on our Facebook page.

Cruisin' on the taxpayer

New Zealand taxpayers have forked out $9 million to pay for a  four-day UN conference in Samoa that included hiring the luxury P&O Pacific Jewel cruise liner. New Zealand covered the accommodation and operating costs, of September’s Small Island Developing States.

We not aware of New Zealand taxpayers having ever chartered such a luxury cruise-liner. The ship is marketed as 'the world's largestPacific-Jewel.jpg adventure park at sea’ and includes a zip-line across the top deck, an outdoor circus performance arena and numerous movie theatres. Conference attendees had nine bars, pubs and nightclubs to choose from and seven restaurants and cafes to dine in.

It seems inconceivable that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade would think it a good use of taxpayers’ money to fund the chartering of a luxury cruise-liner for a conference in another country.  It appears that MFAT brought in the liner so conference attendees could avoid the mainland.

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$9 million is nearly half New Zealand’s annual aid budget to Samoa and amounts to $4,500 per attendee. The amount does not include the cost of attendees’ flights or travel (and presumably cocktails) which makes the $9 million amount all the more remarkable.

If the $9 million had been used for genuine economic development or investment, no one would complain. Instead taxpayers forked out for a conference which ‘achieved’ a document that ‘reaffirmed’, ‘acknowledged’, ‘recognised' and ‘recommitted’ to various bureaucratic platitudes.

Little of the money is likely to have gone into the local Samoan economy. The British-American owned company, P&O Cruises, appears to have been the main beneficiary.

We should be funding measures that actually develop economies, not chartering liners to talk about it

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Earlier in the year press releases were issued by Foreign Affairs Minister, Murray McCully and the Ministry which pumped the value of the talk-fest. They failed to mention the fact that taxpayers were footing the bill at a cost of more than $2 million per day. It it a shameful misuse of public money and officials are no doubt praying that the Christmas rush allows them to avoid public vilification.

Serious questions for Wananga

This morning's lead story in the NZ Herald will no doubt leave a bad taste in taxpayers' mouths, with reports that the Whakatane-based Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi has received $6 million in payments it wasn't entitled to.

The Warriors are caught up in an investigation into a Maori tourism qualification involving alleged overpayments of $6 million of taxpayers' money.

Nearly 100 players and staff "completed" an 18-week course in just one day and a member of the club board - who also worked for the wananga that ran the tertiary course - has been referred to the Serious Fraud Office.

So 100 staff and players left left to do an 18 week course, came back with a certificate and no one asked questions?

Donna Grant has resigned from the Whakatane-based Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi and offered to assist with any potential SFO inquiry, according to her lawyer.

"She is absolutely confident she has done nothing wrong and is happy to co-operate," said Richard McIlraith of law firm Russell McVeagh.

A prominent figure in kapa haka and Maori performing arts, Mrs Grant is the daughter of Sir Howard Morrison and Sir Owen Glenn's sole representative on the five-person Warriors board. She was also the driving force behind the Warriors Foundation, the club's now defunct charity arm, which delivered the Hei Manaaki course to 94 players and staff from the league team.

Her husband, Anaru Grant, is the chairman of Te Arawa Kapa Charitable Trust which also delivered the course twice in Rotorua.

Forensic accounting firm Deloitte referred those three courses to the SFO, while the wananga cancelled the certificates of 217 students and refunded an additional $1.3 million in taxpayers' money. The Herald revealed last month that players and staff from the Warriors received certificates last year, which are among those now recalled.

Chief executive Wayne Scurrah said it was "disappointing to be caught up in all of this" but the club did not know the course was supposed to be 18 weeks long, not one day.

He declined to comment further because a board member was involved and referred questions to chairman Bill Wavish, who did not return messages.

This seems very strange. When you're looking to book a cause, the length is usually the key piece of information. Was it the Warrior's board member who arranged the training?

Mrs Grant's resignation and the referral to the SFO come in the wake of a review released yesterday that found the Hei Manaaki programme was "overfunded", according to the Tertiary Education Commission and the NZ Qualifications Authority.

An independent report by Deloitte, which formed part of the inquiry, found the monitoring of Hei Manaaki - levels 3 and 4 of the National Certificate in Maori Tourism - was poor and highlighted some "internal inadequacies in the academic oversight processes".

Students spent an average of 183 hours with tutors but the wananga was given taxpayer funding for 388 hours. Poor monitoring of attendance "may have resulted in the award of these national qualifications to students who have engaged in only a small proportion of the course", said the report.

This has the potential to seriously undermine the viability of the Wananga. It shows a severe failing of governance.

The "substantially compressed delivery" led to students participating in a programme that fell "well short" of its approved credit value.

Graham Smith, chief executive of Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi, said 217 certificates were cancelled.

One employee was dismissed for misconduct and disciplinary action for other staff has not been ruled out.

 


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