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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.

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.

Pacific_Jewel_-_1.jpg

$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

pacific-jewel-circus.jpg

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.

 

Porky presents troughing award to CEO of Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs

Introducing Porky, our new mascot and aspiring list MP!

Porky loves identifying troughing MPs and bureaucrats. The crème de la crème, he surprises with an awards ceremony. After all, when you’ve turned troughing on the taxpayer into an art, it would be rude to get no recognition!

This morning Porky issues his first award having read the Dominion Post's coverage of Pauline Winter, the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs and her $30,000 expense bill , including weekend trips for her and an assistant to fly to Auckland most weekends.

Taxpayers are stumping up for Pacific Island Affairs boss Pauline Winter to travel between Wellington and Auckland most weekends.

Winter has a home in Westmere, but her $240,000-a-year job is based in the capital.

Her expense records show that over the last year she flew between the two cities almost every weekend. Between July 2013 and 2014, her expenditure totalled more than $30,000, most of which went on airfares, taxis and rental car hire in Wellington and Auckland.

Taxpayers fork out $270,000 per year for this Chief Executive and she is refusing to take calls from the media. The Taxpayers' Union called on Ms Winter to front up, or resign.

This afternoon Porky visited the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, hoping to present Ms Winter with a “Troughing Award” to acknowledge her endeavours with taxpayers’ money.

 Unfortunately Ms Winter's didn’t front. Porky was devastated. Executive Director Jordan Williams recounts:

"For Ms Winter's gallant efforts to rip off New Zealand taxpayers with publicly funded weekend trips to the exotic capital of the South Pacific known as Auckland, Porky and I visited the Ministry’s offices to present her with the first of our 'Troughing Awards’."

“Ms Winters was in the office but refused to front-up or speak to media."

"Despite Ms Winter's expenses being more than $30,000 she chose to hide in her office and send a spin doctor to accept the award on her behalf."

“Ms Winter's refusal to justify her expense bill is the epitome of arrogance. She should front up, justify her extravagance on the taxpayer purse, or resign.”

Porky’s quest will continue - in fact you can expect to see him out and about where ever wasteful bureaucrats, politicians and taxpayer funded groups are wasting hard earned tax dollars.

Getting around without a car

The Taxpayers’ Union is questioning the merits and costs of the “No car? No problem! Getting around your community without a car” brochure, released by the Office for Senior Citizens. The brochure’s purpose is to explain to senior citizens transport options when they can no longer drive.

The primary purpose of the taxpayer funded brochure is to make suggestions such as:

  • “walking more often”
  • “getting lifts from family and friends”
  • “using taxies”
  • “using public transport"
  • “letting others use your car to drive you places”
  • "public transport and getting family to drive you"

It has cost taxpayers over $37,000 to produce the brochures since 2005 (excluding the cost of staff time).

Instead of addressing pressing issues such as fraudsters preying on our seniors and elder-abuse, the Government is throwing money away at brochures that parrot what is surely common sense. When the brochure launched, the Minister for Senior Citizens even put out a press release to welcome it!

We think that publishing a brochure explaining that people can walk places is a waste of taxpayers’ money and public servants’ time. Take a read and tell us what you think via our Facebook page.

We know that politicians like to be seen to be doing something, but surely New Zealanders don’t need to be told by the Government that taking a bus is an option, when you can no longer drive.

No Car No Problem

 

To view the responses to our information requests lodged with the Minister and Office for Senior citizens, click the links below. 

OIA response 19 June 2014

OIA response 3 July 2014

 

 

When someone else is paying, why walk?

A few months ago a Ministry of Health official contacted us regarding the use of taxi charge cards within the Ministry, and suggested we look at the number of 'micro-trips' taken by managers, often between the Ministry's Wellington offices and Parliament.

Details of the Ministry's taxi charges show its Wellington staff are making more than 1,000 taxi trips a year costing less than $10.

In the 2012/2013 financial year, Ministry staff based in Wellington charged taxpayers for 8,645 taxi trips with 1,076 of those for journeys costing less than $10.

It is sadly ironic that while the Ministry of Health spends taxpayer money to promote active living, officials are getting taxis a few hundred metres down the road. 

A taxi trip for the sake of a five minute walk is simply not justifiable when it’s someone else's money. The documents show that these short trips make up more than ten percent of all taxi charges by Wellington based staff.

Taxpayers will not be impressed that Wellington health bureaucrats are the in habit of getting them to pay for micro-trips when it is probably faster to walk.

Ministry of Health response 05/06/2014

Party, Party, Politics and the Taxpayers' Purse

Political parties often engage musicians to drum up support during the election season. It’s the time of year when party hacks attempt to swell their numbers by using musicians as Trojan Horses for their political ideals. We all remember The Feelers’ song used in National Party adverts last election.

But what happens when taxpayer funds are propping up these artists?

The Party, Party put on by the Internet Party features numerous bands that have recently received significant grants of taxpayers’ money courtesy of NZ On Air.

Sons of Zion, State of Mind and PNC all received subsidies from NZ On Air as recently as late last year. The sums involved are not insignificant. A quick glance at the list of subsidies suggests that in the past few years these acts have received well over $200,000 of taxpayer funds.

Laughton Kora of L.A.B was also part of a group that received $245,000 NZ On Air funding to visit prisons for a Maori TV programme. 

While we can all appreciate that bands are comprised of individuals with their own political beliefs, it seems wrong for bands to be enabled to support a political cause by being propped up by the taxpayer.

Like Russian nesting dolls Auckland Council secretaries need secretaries

That’s right – the Auckland Council’s CEO has a secretary that is advertising for a secretary.

We have all heard about stories of politicians looking to empire build courtesy of the taxpayers’ pocket, but this really takes the cake.

No wonder Auckland Council now has more bureaucrats on living off ratepayers than all of the councils it replaced combined.

So what will this new position entail?

“Your day will involve providing administrative support as and where required, this includes anything from managing correspondence, records management to diary management. This role is vital to ensuring that items are actioned, recorded and accurate.”

If that’s the role of the secretary’s secretary, what’s left for the secretary to do?

At a time when the Council needs to find savings of $860 per ratepayer, empire building in Council offices should not be tolerated.

With nearly 6,000 bureaucrats on the pay-roll, 811 of which are earning over $100,000 a year, Len Brown and his CEO ought to be out trimming the fat rather than increasing the burden on ratepayers even further. 

Waste Watch: Auckland Council spends 100k on a curtain

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction - the Devonport Flagstaff reports:

$100,000 curtain raiser for Devenport

A $100,000 budget has been set aside for a space-dividing, silk curtain in Devonport’s new library.

But the public art piece will be mostly invisible during the day.

Creator of the curtain, Judy Millar, was selected from 85 artists to design an object ofpublic art for the new building and bring a unique energy to its interior.

Auckland Council project manager David Thomas said the curtain will be three metres high and made out ofdouble-sided silk. It comes with its own dry-cleaning schedule and a ten-year maintenance or replacement budget 0f$30,000. “We expect that people will want to touch it,” Thomas says. A large part of the project’s total $100,000 budget is going into the tracking, railing and security system to hang the curtain, as well as the printing and sewing ofthe piece, he said.

The curtain will be visible from the street after business hours, when it will be used to divide off and secure the facility’s main area from the community room that remains open to the public.

During library opening hours the curtain will be stored next to the new fireplace, where it will also be shaded from being bleached by the sun, Thomas says. It will also need to be treated with non-flammable chemicals, he says. Read more.

This is an inexcusable waste of ratepayer money. Does Auckland Council have no respect for those who pay its bills?

The culture of big spending in Auckland Council needs to stop. As our Ratepayers' Report shows Auckland already has eye watering debt, the highest in New Zealand on a per ratepayer basis, even before the big infrastructure projects have started.

 


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