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Championing Value For Money From Every Tax Dollar

What does the taxpayer get from Lydia Ko?

I take my hat off to Lydia Ko.  A young women with an impressive talent and no doubt a bright career ahead.  New Zealanders can rightly take pride in her accomplishments.  But why does taxpayer funding necessary follow pride?

This morning’s Dominion Post reports:

Golfer Lydia Ko is asking for more taxpayer support since turning pro than she received when she was an amateur.

The 16-year-old prodigy can now reap big financial rewards from professional tournaments, as well as millions in management contracts and endorsement deals.

She pocketed NZ$181,000 for winning the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters tournament in Taiwan last year and so far this year has collected more than $280,000 in winnings.

As an amateur, she received $115,000 from High Performance Sport NZ in 2012 and $185,000 last year, chief executive Alex Baumann said.

New Zealand Golf's application for this year is for $208,000 to pay for her coaching, physiotherapy and mental skills training. 

 

The Dominion Post picks up Taxpayers' Union criticism of Government funding the America's Cup


Taxpayers' Union criticise Government funding $36m towards the America's Cup
The Dominion Post - 28/03/2014

Government claims that last year's America's Cup campaign has paid for itself more than twice over have been criticised by the Taxpayers' Union.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce yesterday released an independent report into the "direct and indirect benefits" of entering the high-speed yachting regatta.

"From a $36m taxpayer investment, the evaluation shows an estimated positive impact of $87m to the New Zealand economy," Joyce said.

However, Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams said there was no reason to celebrate the funding of a sport for rich men.

"The analysis is based on the questionable assumption that private money would not have flowed into Team New Zealand without taxpayers coughing up," he said.

The report also says Team New Zealand contributed to 1220 new jobs.

"Of course politicians like Mr Joyce will claim to have created jobs by spending other people's money," Williams said.

"The jobs and economic activity lost due to the tax taken from the economy in the first place, is ignored. Even a sport full of the richest men in the world doesn't turn down government money," Williams said.

Click here to read more.

John Bishop on Judith Collins

Being involved in political activity makes it tempting to comment on each and every movement in the political dimension. Early on, the Taxpayers’ Union decided that it would focus on instances of waste and extravagance in central and local government spending, and on cases where spending had clearly not achieved its purpose.

Hence we criticised Tony Marriott of the Christchurch City Council for charging a visit to Hooters’ Bar to his council funded credit card. And we decried Transpower for spending over a million dollars on a swept up cafeteria in its building for staff when there are plenty of cafes within easy walking distance. 

We also decided that, generally speaking, we would not go after what politicians’ poor performance, bad decisions, and questionable judgements unless there were circumstances to justify our intervention. Much of that is partisan debate and we were simply not going to get involved in every public issue, particularly when there were plenty of others making the same points as we would make.

Yes, that makes us look selective in our criticism, but we have taken on Peter Dunne over the cost of passports, and Len Brown over Auckland’s debt burden. We were also quick to point out that Hekia Parata’s inquiry into the Te Kohanga Reo National Trust asked questions about the wrong body, but we have stood back from the row over Judith Collin’s trip to China. 

In the first matter large sums of public money are involved and the misuse of funds is alleged. In the second, the cost of the Collins trip is not large, and her “crime” is not about the misuse of money. It may be a fine distinction, particularly for those who wish to attack us for existing at all, but it is a real one.

Contributors to our blog pages and tip line are constantly urging us to get involved in issues, whether it’s the funding of programmes promoting recreation and sport, the operation of the ACC scheme, the worth of the defence forces, or whatever else is on their minds.  We would love to be able to question policy matters, and to test whether a wide range of policies actually deliver on their objectives and represent value for taxpayers’ money.

It’s early days.  We only launched in October and we are still reliant to a large degree on volunteer time. Because of that we’re focused on exposing instances of clearly bad, mad and wasted spending - until we have built up our resources to do more.  Our record shows that we’re not favouring one party or another. For example, our exposé of the DOC IT cost blowout is precisely why we were established.

Waste and poor spending are our targets, not people and or partisanship.

 

John Bishop
Chair, New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

Turning a blind EY

You may recall that back in October, allegations of misspending within the commercial arm of the Te Kohanga Reo National Trust came to light as a result of an exposé by Maori TV’s Native Affairs programme. Allegations included a staff member spending Kohanga Reo funds on a wedding dress, a separate Trelise Cooper dress, a 21st birthday present and a $1000 cash withdrawal from a BP station as koha for a tangi which she did not attend.

Taxpayers were told at the time that the allegations would be subject of an urgent independent audit commissioned by the Ministry of Education.

The Minister of Education and her Associate Minister hastily called a press conference last night and released the report by accounting firm EY. The Dominion Post held their front page and led with the story this morning.

Kohanga Reo probe avoids key claims

The Government is dodging questions about allegations of misspending by a company linked to Kohanga Reo after a press conference tonight where it claimed the firm had been cleared – before admitting none of the claims sparking its inquiry were investigated.

After holding on to an audit report for a week, Education Minister Hekia Parata tonight called an urgent press conference for 8pm with just over an hour’s notice to announce the Kohanga Reo National Trust had been cleared of any wrongdoing - though the report by Ernst & Young raised questions about the processes surrounding a $50,000 koha payment to an unnamed recipient, and credit card controls.

But under questioning Parata and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples confirmed none of the original allegations surrounding spending by the trust's commercial arm Te Pataka Ohanga were investigated. Read more.

That’s right. The Ministry commissioned EY to do a report that doesn’t cover the key allegations!

So why is the Minister telling the public that the Kohanga Reo National Trust has been cleared? You’ll need to bear with us here. The National Trust receives around $90million funding per year from the Government which is transferred to the individual kohanga reo. Each kōhanga reo then contracts a company called Te Pataka Ohanga for various services such as insurance, IT and property loans.

Te Pataka Ohanga is a subsidiary of the National Trust.

Amazingly, because it is a subsidiary, and because the taxpayer money flows through the individual kohanga reo, the Ministers are saying that Te Pataka Ohanga cannot be examined and argue that it is not public money.

In the last few hours Fairfax has picked up the Taxpayers' Union press release on that point:

Kohanga Reo audit a ‘whitewash'

Parata said it was a private organisation so outside the Government's scope - although it was later confirmed TPO ultimately received its funding through the Ministry of Education.

Jordan Williams, executive director of the Taxpayers' Union, today called the late-night press conference and "mischaracterisation" of the report "shameful" as it ignored the key allegations around the personal use of company credit cards.

"The Ernst Young review did not even look at the key allegations at Te Pataka Ohanga," he said.

"It's not vindication, it's a whitewash."

Williams asked what other publicly funded entity could avoid audit scrutiny by creating a subsidiary company.

"If this attitude was the norm, the public audit process would be meaningless," he said.

"Instead of getting to the bottom of the allegations, Hekia Parata and Dr Pita Sharples have chosen to turn a blind eye to what are serious allegations."

Labour's Nanaia Mahuta said given the seriousness of the allegations it was "inadequate" for Parata to say she had no oversight of TPO.

"The reality is that public monies are transferred from the Kohanga Reo Trust to Te Pataka Ohanga and there should be a line of sight to ensure that the money is spent properly and that there's a level of transparency and accountability for that.” Read more.

What do you think? Drop us a line, or comment on our Facebook page.

Game On - 194 days

The Prime Minister has announced an election date of 20 September. 

The role of the Taxpayers' Union through the next 194 days is to make sure politicians are promising value for money - and not vote buying through pork barrel politics and government waste.

Without fear or favour, we intend to critique the various promises made with taxpayers' money as well as fight policies that will increase the overall tax burden faced by kiwi households.

If you've not already joined our campaign, you can do so here. It's going to be a lot of fun.

A question of value for taxpayer money

This morning there has been some criticism of my comments in a story on the Herald website about a trip Mojo Mathers took to Masterton from Christchurch apparently just for a short interview on a community radio station.

For clarification:

  • The Taxpayers' Union did not seek media attention on this story. There is no associated press release. The Herald called yesterday evening asking for comment, as happens often.
  • The Taxpayers' Union operate 24 hour media line for comment on taxpayer issues. Yesterday's call came through to me and I was asked whether it was value for money for an MP to fly 800km for a radio interview on a small community station. I said it was not value for money when the interview could have been done on Skype as well as the comments that are quoted in the story.
  • I've made no comment about Ms Mathers disability. In fact, if the travel was necessary I would not criticise the spending. But answering questions posed by the Herald, on matter which as far as I know are completely unrelated to her disability, is legitimate.
  • Accusations that I (or the Union) sought to go after Mathers are ridiculous. To repeat, we were asked for comment by the Herald who were running the story. The comments would have been the same whoever the MP.
  • Accusations that the Taxpayers' Union are partisan are also silly. I am proud that the Union has gone after National MPs and the current government for expenses, wasteful expenditure and corporate welfare. See http://info.scoop.co.nz/New_Zealand_Taxpayers'_Union 

On reflection, I wonder why an MP from a party that prides itself for having a low environmental footprint choose to fly to a radio interview that could have been done on Skype. Perhaps Ms Mathers had other engagements in Masterton. If so, that was not the information provided to me at the time by the Herald reporter.

Jordan Williams.

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.

 

Internal Affairs misleading public with five year passport justification

Earlier in the month, we launched Jordan McCluskey's briefing paper on the lousy deal New Zealand passport holders are getting. 

Following the briefing paper, and our presentation to the Parliamentary select committee considering a petition to reintroduce ten year passports, we've learned just how thin the justification is for the current five year passport regime.

The Department of Internal Affair's response to our request under the Official Information Act casts doubt on Internal Affairs' claim that five year passports are necessary for New Zealanders to retain visa-free status to many parts of the world.

The Department's '5 year passport' Q&A webpage still states:

What would happen if we had a ten year passport?

...

A longer validity period would mean fewer visa free arrangements with other countries (and potentially higher travel costs as New Zealand travellers need to apply for more visas. More delays would be a likely result because new features could only be introduced every ten years).

So we asked what counties expressed concern and what countries did New Zealanders gain visa free access because of the move to five year passports in 2005.

Officials could not provide a single document that supported the Department's claim that ten year passports would jeopardise New Zealand's visa-free arrangements with other countries 

In recent weeks the Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs have told media that ten year passports are necessary for security. But not a single country has expressed concern with New Zealand’s old passport regime.

It appears that passport bureaucrats are inflating justifications for the existing regime rather than reflecting genuine concerns about passport security.

The prediction that other Anglo-Saxon countries would move to five year passports was wrong

The advice that prompted the last government to cut the term of passports has proved to be wrong. The documents also show that officials were wrong in advice given to the Government in 2003 that Australia, the UK and the US intended introduce five year passports. All three countries have remained at ten years, with others moving from five to ten.

Come on Mr Dunne, do the right thing, cut the passport tax and reintroduce ten year passports.

Jordan McCluskey's briefing paper “Sky High” is available to download here.

DIA letter on passports

 

Passports Documents released under the OIA

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

Fizz using Health Research Council's logo without permission

The Taxpayer’s Union has discovered that the 'Fizz' group of academics campaigning for a ‘sugar tax’ on soft drinks appears to have been falsely claiming the endorsement of the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC).

A group of academics who have received a lot of publicity recently, calling themselves "Fizz" and pushing a sugar tax, appear to have been caught out. On the 'programme guide', which was available on their website, fizz.org.nz they listed the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC)'s logo. The full document is available here.

 

We wrote to the HRC asking what the nature of its support is for Fizz. We wondered why this group of academics, clearly pushing for political ends (i.e. a sugar tax) were receiving taxpayer support from the HRC.

We found that "Fizz" were fibbing - HRC are not supporting their sugar tax campaign.

The letter from the HRC's Chief Executive, Dr Robin Olds, is below. It states that Fizz is not receiving any support form the HRC and suggests that Fizz has been misleading its supporters, the public, and the media.

Subsequently, we've also learned that Dr Olds has asked that the HRC logo be removed from Fizz’s promotional material. In an email to the Taxpayers’ Union Mr Olds said,

“In a phone call to the conference organiser we pointed out that using our logo was inappropriate, given that [Fizz] did not seek our permission, and that some appeared to interpret the logo as the HRC endorsing the conference."

We've also written to the other government bodies that are apparently supporting this Fizz group. We want to know whether they are supporting Fizz's political activities or whether Fizz is also falsely claiming support. 

In the meantime, we think that one has to be sceptical about a group claiming to be 'evidence based' and about science when they use the HRC’s logo without permission. We think it potentially calls into question their academic credibility.


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