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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.

Chatham Islands treaty settlement travel costs skyrocket

website_010.jpgThe efficiency of the Office of Treaty Settlements' travel arrangements needs examination, after just nine officials racked up a $57k travel bill to the Chatham Islands alone, in only 18 months. 

Serious questions need to be asked about why the Office have not elected to use other means to remain connected with those involved in the negotiations on the Chatham Islands. Have they thought of video conferencing, emailing, or even picking up the phone? One official’s return flight from the Chathams alone cost the taxpayer over $2,600 – that is enough to get you around Europe and back.
 
The figures, which were obtained under the Official Information Act and are broken down below, are made up of $44,214 on flights, $10,911 on hotels, and $2,025 on rental cars and fees.
 
waitangi_the_main_town_on_the_chatham_islands_phot_1431883473.JPGThe Office have blamed the quality of internet on the Chathams as restricting other means of communication, but the local council there advised us that the internet works perfectly fine.  They said that people can even come into their offices and use video call facilities.
 
What’s more, officials have been negotiating with local iwi since August 2015, but they don’t even have an agreement in principle to show for it. When asked how long the negotiations are expected to last, the Office were unable to pinpoint an end date. These travel costs could go on for years and years to come.
 
A Google search of the lavish farm-stay accommodation officials elected to put themselves up in indicate that there has been no expense spared on these island getaways.

The broken down figures and OIA response can be seen below: 

 

 

Revealed: MFAT giving taxpayer money to North Korea

images-3.jpgFurther to our earlier exposés of aid money being wasted on countries spending it on space programmes and the millions going to subsidiaries of the Clinton Foundation, we can now reveal that under the current Government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade has given $215,000 to North Korean aid projects, despite the despotic regime's efforts to develop delivery systems for nuclear weapons aimed at some of our closest allies. 

Included in the aid were six tractor/trailer units to be used on a DPRK "NZ Friendship Farm" - i.e. equipment under the direct ownership and control of the despotic regime.

While North Korea wants to wipe Western nations off the face of the Earth, our Government has been diverting taxpayer money to business schemes owned and managed by the regime. It is inexcusable.

The Government can say all it likes to justify this spending, but the fact it stopped when Taxpayers' Union started asking questions on the issue, shows that it really is indefensible.

Stats NZ pay for astronomical lease

 

WestpacHouse2.jpgStatistics New Zealand’s new lease with Wellington’s Chow Brothers for offices at 318 Lambton Quay signs up taxpayers for $794 per square metre per year — an astronomical amount for office space.
 
As reported by this morning's Dominion Post, documents (see link below) show that the Ministry is paying $1.857 million for 2,338sqm of space – including paying $1,279.56 per square metre per year for level 3 of the building.  Westpac Bank, a tenant renting floors in the same building, pays only $331.22 per square metre per year.

Despite the market rate for ‘A’ grade buildings being no more than $500 per square metre, this eye-watering deal went through and is the talk of the town in Wellington’s property sector.

The building owners must be over the moon – they wouldn’t believe their luck. An office lease priced at nearly $800 per square metre is astronomical.

Until today, we thought Auckland's Independentt Maori Statutory Board swanky offices in Auckland's viaduct harbour were the most expensive publicly paid offices in the country.  Looks like we were wrong - taxpayers are forking out big bucks for what is nothing special in the middle of Wellington.
 
The Statistics New Zealand official who signed this bizarre lease should be held to account. It makes a mockery of the Government’s previous efforts to get value for money in relation to office accommodation procurement.

The fact this deal has attracted the attention of Wellington's commercial property owners, who are laughing behind the Government’s back, shows the deal is worthy of a ‘certificate of achievement’ for wasting taxpayer money.

A schedule of tenants and amounts is available here.

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

clinton.jpg

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.

cheque.jpg

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.

 

Porky presents waste award to MBIE officials

MBIEAward.jpg

Porky, the Taxpayers’ Union government waste mascot, this morning visited the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to award a Government Waste Certificate of Achievement to David Smol, the Ministry's Chief Executive, for the Ministry’s extraordinary lavish office fit out.

After some waiting, Mr Smol failed to front, but an MBIE official accepted the award on his behalf (high quality versions of the images below video of the award ceremony are available on request).

This spending is an absolute disgrace and not the first time MBIE has given the middle finger to taxpayers. First there was the $67,339 sign, now the $140,474 television, but they also spent $5,480 on a consultant just to advise what art was best for the office.

This is a Government department behaving like a Madison Avenue advertising agency. The award is to recognise the achievement of wasting so much of other people's money.

Screen_Shot_2015-06-17_at_12.43.33_pm.png

Why is there no accountability for these repeated mistakes? Who below the Chief Executive could possibly have authority to sign off on a $140,000 TV screen?

The decision maker should be sacked, or Mr Smol should do the honourable thing and fall on his own sword.

 

 


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