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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.

Waste Watch: DoC sending staff to australia to burn taxpayer cash

Documents we've obtained show that the Department of Conservation has spent over $100,000 to send staff overseas to learn a skill not applicable in New Zealand. 47 staff have traveled to Australia to learn how to conduct controlled burn-offs, despite the practice not being used by DoC.

Included in the document is an email from a DoC official regarding the our enquires which suggests a an ‘excuse’ the Department could use for why staff were going on the trips.

Also released is feedback from staff that went the trips, including the admission by one that the group didn’t “really do much fire stuff”, despite that being the apparent purpose of the trip.

We think these trips were just an excuse for a junket, not training that furthers New Zealand’s conservation. They might as well have learned the didgeridoo. We're calling on the the Minister for Conservation should put an end to this ‘controlled-burning' of taxpayers’ hard earned money.

DoC response to OIA by New Zealand Taxpayers' Union 16 May 2014

DoC response to OIA by New Zealand Taxpayers' Union 18 June 2014

 

Waste watch: Auckland Council funds conference on polyamory

Yesterday afternoon we received a tipoff that Auckland Council recently funded a one day conference to explore the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved, also known as polyamory. 

Last month the gaynz.com website reported that among the first recipients of Auckland Council’s first ever 'Rainbow Door Fund’ was 'Poly Panel, Discussions around Queer Polyamory’, a one day event exploring a framework of ethical, healthy polyamory relationships.

We think that Auckland ratepayers will be horrified that it appears their rates are being used to promote alternative lifestyles.

Why should Auckland Council be concerning itself with matters in the bedroom?

This is just as concerning as it would be were Auckland Council funding conservative lobby group conferences such as for Family First.

Earlier this year the Rainbow Door Fund was established to provide grants for glbti people. We think it is questionable for Auckland Council to fund community groups based on the sexual preferences of their members. Conferences such as these should be funded by the interest groups themselves, not from money meant for roads and core services.

Given the spiralling levels of Auckland Council debt, the Council should be focused on value for money, not throwing funding at favoured groups.

Are our priorities right in Tonga?

This morning we received the following press release from the Government:

NZ to contribute to the upgrade of Teufaiva Stadium
John Key
4 JUNE, 2014

Prime Minister John Key has today announced New Zealand will contribute around $2 million towards upgrading Tonga’s national stadium in Nuku’alofa ahead of the 2019 Pacific Games.

Why are Kiwi taxpayers contributing to this?

“New Zealand looks forward to working with the Tongan Government to improve Teufaiva Stadium in the lead up to the 2019 Pacific Games and other international events,’’ says Mr Key.

“Teufaiva Stadium is already an important site for domestic rugby, athletics and community events and will be a great venue for the Pacific Games.

“New Zealand supports a fit-for-purpose upgrade of the stadium that will expand its utility while supporting the strong community that participates in current stadium events.

“I’m happy that New Zealand can assist Tonga in its efforts to promote sports and healthy lifestyles in Tonga,” says Mr Key.

We’re not sure that contributing funds to a sports stadium is much of a promotion of healthy lifestyles, but more importantly is this really the highest priority to better the lives of those living in the Kingdom of Tonga? If the goal is to improve health, why isn't New Zealand spending the $2 million directly on health, implementing exercise programmes in schools or encouraging a healthy lifestyle?

The first step in the upgrade work will be a New Zealand-funded feasibility study and design, and technical support for the Tongan Government.

Mr Key made the announcement in Tonga today where he is visiting from June 3-5, as part of the 2014 Pacific Mission.

We would have thought that spending $2 million on a sports stadium is a purely nice-to-have rather than something that makes a difference to the lives of struggling families.

While drafting some comment on the Government's priorities we received the following: 

NZ to invest $5 million to rebuild Tongan schools 
John Key
4 JUNE, 2014

Prime Minister John Key has today announced New Zealand will contribute $5 million to rebuilding schools in Tonga’s Ha’apai islands following the devastating Cyclone Ian earlier this year.

 Good! 

“The $7.5m joint project with the Asian Development Bank and the Tongan Government will have a big impact on the lives of nearly 1,300 students affected by the cyclone,” says Mr Key.

“Getting children back into a regular school is vital for their education, safety and emotional well-being. Education is one of the priority areas for Tonga under the New Zealand Aid Programme and we are very pleased to be able to respond to the Tongan Government’s request for assistance,” says Mr Key.

We couldn’t agree more with the value ascribed to education by Mr Key in this quote.

In January of this year, Cyclone Ian caused extensive damage to infrastructure, public utilities and services, agriculture and housing, as well as severely damaging schools in the Ha’apai island group. 

The funding will be used to reconstruct classrooms and staff quarters, and replace school equipment across the island group by 2016.

“New Zealand enjoys a strong relationship with Tonga and the two countries are important regional partners,” says Mr Key.

“There is a significant Tongan population living in New Zealand, so it’s important that we are able to help Tonga in times of need.”

Mr Key made the announcement while visiting Government Primary School in Nuku’alofa today. While in Tonga, Mr Key also met with Tongan Prime Minister Tuʻivakanō and had high level discussions with Tongan members of cabinet. 

Mr Key is visiting Tonga as part of the 2014 Pacific Mission. He will visit Niue on Thursday before returning home.

Whilst we applaud our foreign aid obligations being spent on such worthy causes, it doesn’t alleviate our concern around the sports stadium funding.

That $2 million would still be better off earmarked for the core services of government that influence daily life for the people of Tonga.

We're disappointed that our Government is effectively saying funding for the vanity project of a sports stadium is 40% as important as rebuilding Tongan schools and getting children back into regular education.

Taxpayers' Union calls for changes to the Official Information Act to include trusts

Trust investigates 'irregular payments' claim The New Zealand Herald - 27/05/2014

A taxpayer-funded South Auckland disability support provider which received $30 million last year is investigating its own accounts, after claims from New Zealand First leader Winston Peters of "irregular payments".

… 

The Taxpayers' Union called for changes to the Official Information Act to cover groups such as the trust.

"Unlike government agencies, these non-profit groups are not required to comply with the act. This means that too often, taxpayer money disappears into a void," union executive director Jordan Williams said.

Click here to read more.

Taxpayers' Union calls for changes to the Official Information Act to include trusts

Trust investigates 'irregular payments' claim The New Zealand Herald - 27/05/2014

A taxpayer-funded South Auckland disability support provider which received $30 million last year is investigating its own accounts, after claims from New Zealand First leader Winston Peters of "irregular payments".

… 

The Taxpayers' Union called for changes to the Official Information Act to cover groups such as the trust.

"Unlike government agencies, these non-profit groups are not required to comply with the act. This means that too often, taxpayer money disappears into a void," union executive director Jordan Williams said.

Click here to read more.

London return for the money written-off on rail since 2008

We’re currently working though the budget announcements and stack of material released last week.  What’s caught our eye are the unbelievable amounts taxpayers are forking out for KiwiRail.  On Budget day the Government announced a further $198 million of funding for KiwiRail’s Turnaround Plan. That brings the total cost to taxpayers of rail to a whopping $12.2 billion dollars since rail was renationalised in 2008.

Worse, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee has warned that KiwiRail is likely to need more what the Government is calling a 'turn around plan'.

The $12.2 billion taxpayer money written off on KiwiRail is equivalent to over $2,700 per taxpayer - nearly enough buy every Kiwi a return flight to London.

Per household, the amount is $6,900 - enough to buy a good, reliable second hand car.

The $12.2 billion refers to the total Crown investment of $2.4 billion since 2008 and write downs totalling $9.8 billion. 

We've put out a statement calling on the Government to do a U-turn on KiwiRail. At what point will the Government stop throwing good money after bad? Taxpayers should not be burdened with bringing dead rats to life.

It is incredible that for all this money, we still have locomotives with asbestos and ferries that are lemons. We think taxpayers deserve better.

Update on Dunedin Mayor’s “Gentleman’s agreement”

We now have more details of the deal uncovered by the Taxpayers’ Union over the weekend between Dunedin’s Mayor Dave Cull and former MP, Pete Hodgson, which the Mayor described in the media as a “gentleman’s agreement”.

This morning’s Christchurch Press editorial analyses the deal:

Editorial: Gentlemen sign contracts too

...

There is no reason to believe that Cull and Hodgson are anything other than honest gentlemen, but the geographic accident that also gives them "southern man" status should not put them above the usual requirements by which local government business is conducted.

The standards that apply to council administration in the south should be no less rigorous than in Auckland city or the Whangarei district. Why should ratepayers in Dunedin tolerate a more easy-going attitude towards the spending of their money than anywhere else, just because of a romantic notion that southerners are somehow more honourable? Actually, they aren't.

 

Payments by Dunedin City Council to former MP with no documentation

This morning the Taxpayers’ Union went public with material concerning a payment (or payments) totalling $3,400 by the Dunedin City Council to former MP Pete Hogdson with no documentation or contract.

We're questioning the internal controls at the Council after the uncovering the payment following a recent media report that Mr Hodgson had been recruited by the Council for lobbying. We asked for information about the services being provided by Mr Hodgson under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act. Click "continue reading" below to view the Council's response.

According to the Council, Mr Hodgson’s work consisted of “lobbying and advocating on behalf of the Council” and there is no supporting documentation. 

The Council has told us that:

  • Everything was verbal. The Council could not provide a single report, email, or even letter of engagement.
  • All of the contracts were negotiated verbally.
  • The contracts were negotiated by the Mayor and there is no documentation to explain the deal.

We asked for copies of any work by Mr Hodgson. All we got back was two letters by the mayor on which Mr Hodgson apparently had input. It is not clear what precisely that was. For example, there is no 'tracked changes" document.

We think Dunedin ratepayers will be alarmed that their Council paid $3,400 apparently without so much as an invoice. Dunedin ratepayers should ask their Mayor:

  • What did Mr Hodgson do? Was this just expensive proof reading?
  • Why was the Mayor negotiating this in the first place?
  • Why verbally?
  • Why is there absolutely no documentation for the arrangement, not even an email?
  • Is Mr Hodgson friends with the Mayor?
  • Why doesn't Dunedin Council have the most basic internal controls, requiring amounts to be paid by invoice only?

The Council’s response raises serious questions.  We can't think of another government agency that would spend $3,400 without being able to provide as much as an invoice. 

Without an explanation from the Council, we are left wondering whether the Auditor-General should get involved."

Dunedin City Council LGOIMA response - Pete Hodgson

Update on Napier omnishambles museum

The Hawke's Bay Today has picked up the story on the omnishambles that is the Napier Museum.

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union has labelled the MTG Hawke's Bay museum's problems an "omnishambles", while Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule has denied Napier Mayor Bill Dalton's claim they knew about storage issues with the facility as early as last year.

At Wednesday's City Development Committee meeting, Mr Dalton said the previous council and Mr Yule were made aware last year that there were issues relating to storage at the museum. That was refuted yesterday by Mr Yule who said he would have taken steps to remedy the situation, had he known about it.

"Firstly, I would have told my council straight away, because we are governors of half that collection, and two, we'd have worked out - what is the plan and how can we fix this?" he said.

"There was a conversation a number of years ago about whether we should have off-site storage. It was decided not to do that, effectively because the operating costs of having two facilities would be high.

"Until a week ago, that was my understanding of what was happening."

Mr Dalton declined to respond to Mr Yule's denial.

This week it was revealed there were storage issues at the new museum, with only as much as 40 per cent of the collection able to be housed - a figure Mr Dalton said was inaccurate.

Furthermore, at Wednesday's meeting projected visitor targets were found to be grossly erroneous with this year's target of 690,000 visitors reduced to a more realistic 120,000.

At the meeting tourism services manager Neil Fergus said the targets were based on the old building, which allowed for a free public flow through the Century Foyer "which is no longer relevant to the redeveloped site".

Mr Dalton said yesterday he would not get involved in a debate with the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

"We've built a magnificent new building.

"We do require some fine tuning and we're going to undergo a review to get it fine tuned. End of story."

He was unsure when the planned review of the MTG issues would be completed as Napier City Council chief executive Wayne Jack was away on the Hawke's Bay Regional Council's dam fact-finding trip to the South Island.

"I'm not going to make any comment until we've done the review," Mr Dalton said.

"Let us get the review done and see what the facts are."

Meanwhile, Jordan Williams of the Taxpayers' Union said: "A three-children family doesn't build a two-bedroom house, but Napier has built a museum forgetting 40 per cent of its collection. It is a complete omnishambles."

Lawrence Yule contacted me this morning and said that not only did he not know of the situation in Napier, neither did Hastings District Council officials. I know Lawrence and accept his word. It appears that he's been dropped in it by Dalton.

Nevertheless Hastings ratepayers helped fund this museum and deserve answers (presumably from Napier!).

Museum of omnishambles in Hawke's Bay

Omnishambles

It appears that Hawke’s Bay mayors may have known of the omnishambles at the new museum in Napier a year ago and apparently have failed to do much about it.

The museum and gallery opened last September and cost Hawke's Bay ratepayers $18 million to build.  To recap, last month we learned that the budgets were wrong:

Napier City Council has been caught short after discovering that thousands of people it thought were visiting its museum were just popping in to use the toilets.

Now it needs to revise its 10-year plan after finding that the projected visitor numbers for its new $18 million museum and gallery were based on inaccurate figures.

Then we found out that the museum cannot hold the collection it was built to accommodate. In fact, it is so small up to 40% will need to stored at an as yet unknown site. Radio NZThe Dominion Post and TVNZ covered the story. 

Then began the spin from Napier City Council that they knew of the problems all along, but were nevertheless conducting a 'review' on how it happened.

This morning the Dominion Post reported that Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule was aware of the situation, an allegation made by Napier's Mayor but strongly refuted by Mr Yule. The whole saga appears to be resulting in a somewhat undignified spat between the mayors of the Bay cities.

I venture to suggest that there is more to come of this story...


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