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Good work DoC - but questions about AAE claiming support

Following the well publicised case of global warming scientists being stuck in record pack ice in Antarctica (ironically the expedition was intended to study the dwindling sea ice) and the efforts to rescue them, the Taxpayers' Union began enquires late last year to find out precisely how much taxpayers' money the NZ Government "supporters" listed on the expedition's website had contributed.

It appears that thankfully New Zealand taxpayers' haven't forked out the huge amounts feared. In fact, it appears that the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) is claiming at least one 'supporter' it doesn't have...

The expedition's website lists expedition supporters the Department of Conservation, Landcare Research, and the University of Waikato.

 

Despite asking the AAE leader (via email and his very active twitter account), and the media contacts at the University of New South Wales, no one would tell us how much kiwi taxpayers had contributed via the three agencies.

On 1 January we lodged Official Information Act requests with DoC, Landcare and the University of Waikato.

To DoC's credit it responded by 8 January, stating that DoC were not participants in the expedition and therefore the information (i.e. what financial and non-financial support was given) does not exist. DoC's letter and our response is below.

Department of Conservation response and Taxpayers' Union request for clarification re AAE January 2014.

 

Last night DoC's Director of Policy Jeff Flavell called me and confirmed that the Department not being 'a participant' in the expedition was intended to mean that DoC did not provide any support to AAE at all. In fact he seemed surprised that DoC was listed as a supporter on the AAE website and that he would ask his officials whether it was known that the AAE was using the DoC logo and claiming support.

So credit for DoC for coming back to us so quickly and from someone so senior, especially given our recent expose of failings within the department.

We await the responses from Waikato and Landcare.

MP employment spats costing taxpayers

This morning the New Zealand Herald covered figures released by the Taxpayers' Union show that MPs are chewing through more than $65,000 per month on payouts to avoid messy employment grievances.

Parliamentary Service spent nearly $400,000 on payouts for former staff in the second half of last year, a period in which the agency was mired in controversy.

Figures released by the Speaker showed that since June, 20 former employees had received a severance payment. On average, former staff received nearly $20,000 each.

Parliamentary Service employed around 650 people including assistants and advisers for MPs in Wellington and regional offices, and also staff within the parliamentary precinct such as security guards.

Eleven of the people who received severance packages had worked for MPs.

Parliamentary Service group manager shared services Anne Smith said the number and amount of payments was higher than usual because the agency was being restructured and because of a high turnover of MPs in the second half of the year.

She said the costs would be offset by the improvements made in the restructuring.

Labour Party MP Grant Robertson said that the payments reflected a turbulent period for the agency.

"It would be fair to say that morale has been pretty low in the Parliamentary Service and obviously from the point of view of MPs we don't want to see that carry on."

General manager Geoff Thorn resigned in August after it was revealed that Parliamentary Service had passed on emails between Fairfax reporter Andrea Vance and United Future leader Peter Dunne to an inquiry investigating the leak of a sensitive report.

Taxpayers' Union spokesman Jordan Williams criticised the costly use of public money to pay out former staff. He claimed that Parliamentary Service was "buying the silence" of workers who had been sacked on the spot by MPs.

A clause in parliamentary staff contracts allowed instant dismissal of staff in cases of "irreconcilable differences".

Mr Williams said he knew of two dismissals in which a minor party leader refused to hear their employee's response to allegations made by other colleagues.

Parliamentary Service would not confirm how many of the payments related to the irreconcilable differences clause, but said the agency followed strict processes in dealing with employment disputes.

The payments usually covered three months' wages and any outstanding leave or other entitlements.

The figures released did not include ministerial staff.

Severance payments

MP support staff: Eleven payments totalling $122,935.
Other staff: Nine payments totalling $273,006.

The two instant dismissals referred to in the Herald story, were due to a minor party leader being unwilling to hear his employee’s response to a minor allegation made by a colleague. The former employees were offered confidential payouts from Parliamentary Service well above what the individuals were advised they would likely be awarded in court. 

While every other New Zealander must follow the letter of employment law, information released to the Taxpayers' Union suggests that MPs are often ignoring it and having taxpayers fund the resulting payouts. It appears that parliamentary officials offer generous settlements to avoid cases going to the Employment Relations Authority. We think that protecting MPs with such a practise affords them a privilege that only invites further abuse. 

To date Ministerial Services has refused to provide the equivalent information for ministerial staff. The Taxpayers' Union currently has a complaint regarding that decision before the Ombudsman.

The Herald on the iTax

This morning's NZ Herald covers an opinion poll it commissioned on public support for lowering the threshold GST is applicable to for purchases made on foreign websites:

A Herald-DigiPoll survey this month found that almost 55 per cent of the 750 New Zealanders polled had bought goods from foreign websites.Of those surveyed, 53 per cent said the $400 exemption should not be removed as the tax would be too inconvenient to collect.

Surprisingly, just under 40 per cent - 38.5% - agreed with the view of the Retailers Association that the 15 per cent GST should be applied to all overseas online purchases to level the playing field for local retailers.

Cost of Royal visit less than full time head of state

Taxpayers' Union positive about royal visit Newstalk ZB 21/12/2014

A body set up to critique the way taxpayers' money is spent is feeling positive about next year's royal visit.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - William and Kate - have confirmed a trip to New Zealand in April.
It's not yet clear if Prince George will travel with them.
Taxpayers' Union spokesman Jordan Williams says while the cost of the trip isn't yet known....it may not be as bad as some people expect.
He says New Zealand is only picking up the tab for the few days the royals are here, while other countries have to carry the cost of a royal family or a president all year.

Taxpayers' Union Uncovers Massive IT Screw Up Within DOC

The Taxpayers’ Union revealed a massive cost overrun of a mismanaged IT project jointly commissioned by DoC and Land Information New Zealand (LINZ).  Two independent reports on the project are damning of DoC.  They blame mismanagement and ineffective governance for the project’s failure. It appears that LINZ has walked away from the project and has left DoC to pick up the pieces.  A selection of the media coverage is below.

Another govt IT project failure - this time at DoC New Zealand Herald - 18/12/2013

Yet another Government IT project has gone off the rails with a new Department of Conservation land management system costing taxpayers millions in budget overruns while still failing to deliver as promised.

And as in the case of the Novopay debacle, officials have blamed an Australian IT company.

The National Property and Land Information System (NaPALIS) initiated two years ago was joint programme intended to replace the Department of Conservation's (DoC) and Land Information NZ's (Linz) existing systems, with Tasmanian company ICS winning the contract.

However documents obtained under the Official Information Act by activist group the Taxypayers Union reveal the $5.6 million project was completed several months late in September last year, required an extra $588,967 to complete and even then failed to function as required by DoC.

DoC has now allocated about $2 million of additional funding to make the programme fully operational.

Personality clashes causing budget blowout Newstalk ZB - 18/12/2013 

Trouble between LINZ and DOC 

Personality clashes between government departments could be to blame for a failing and over budget information system.

Documents released to the Taxpayers' Union show efforts for the Department of Conservation and Land Information New Zealand to work together to create a database of the country's land have been dodgy at best.

Union spokesperson Jordan Williams says the project is now $2 million over budget, and still not fully operational.

He says two independent reports blame ineffective governance, and even officials from the the two departments not getting along.

System now top priority

An expensive and overdue information system is now the top priority for Department of Conservation bosses to see fixed.

The National Property and Land Information System was due to be finished early last year, but still isn't fully operational, and needs an injection of $2 million for bug fixes.

Director-General Lou Sanson says he doesn't like waste, so he's determined to get it sorted.

He says taxpayers can be assured he'll wring maximum value out of the system to make up for the delays.

DoC admits failings over IT blow-out Radio New Zealand - 18/12/2013 

Click here to listen to Checkpoint interview with Lou Sanson, Director General, DOC

Click here to listen to Checkpoint interview with Jordan Williams, Taxpayers' Union

Cost overruns with DOC computer system Otago Daily Times - 18/12/2013

Taxpayers' Union 'uncover massive IT screw up' Yahoo! New Zealand - 18/12/2013

EXCLUSIVE: Tip off to Taxpayers' Union uncovers IT stuff up and cost overrun at DOC

The tip line works

Just after publicly launching in October, the Taxpayers' Union received an anonymous tip off that there was a massive cost overrun of a mismanaged IT project jointly commissioned by DoC and Land Information New Zealand (LINZ).  The National Property and Land Information System (“NaPALIS”) had allegedly been a failure, with DoC still picking up the pieces 18 months after the project was scheduled to be complete.

This morning a DoC official hand delivered the response to the requests for information by the Taxpayers' Union. We understand that the Director General will be making a public statement this afternoon.

The material includes two independent reports that are damning of DoC.  They blame mismanagement and ineffective governance for the project’s failure. It appears that LINZ has walked away from the project and has left DoC to pick up the pieces.

We're still reviewing the material, but to summaries one of the independent reviews of the project (conducted by Deloitte), it found:

  • ineffective governance;
  • inadequate business ownership;
  • lack of shared vision and shared outcome by DoC and LINZ for NaPALIS;
  • the NaPALIS Programme’s failure to deliver benefits to DoC;
  • lack of effective and inclusive requirements and development phase;
  • ineffective work on cultural alignment and change management between DoC and LINZ;
  • personality clashes between the DoC and LINZ;
  • an “us and them” approach -the report says:
  • “The Programme Manager was seen to be working only for LINZ most of the time, leaving DoC to flounder”;
  • lack of focus by the Programme Manager on achieving a join outcome;
  • lack of accountability by the Programme Manager;
  • ineffective vendor management; and
  • lack of independent quality assurance.

Update:

The NZ Herald have now picked up the story. Our media release is copied below.

MEDIA RELEASE

TAXPAYERS’ UNION UNCOVER MASSIVE I.T. SCREW UP WITHIN DOC

18 DECEMBER 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Taxpayers’ Union has uncovered an IT screw up within the Department of Conservation as a result of a tip-off to taxpayers.org.nz relating to DoC’s National Property and Land Information System (“NaPALIS”).

Two independent reports by accountancy firm Deloitte are damning of DoC. They blame mismanagement and ineffective governance for the project’s failure. NaPALIS was joint project between DoC and Land Information New Zealand. Despite DoC allocating over $2 million in additional funding, the system is still not fully operational. The IT project has cost taxpayers over $6 million and LINZ appear to be leaving it to DoC to fix up the mess.

“This is DoC’s very own Novopay,” says Jordan Williams, Executive Director of theTaxpayers’ Union. “The two independent reviews show how mismanaged the project was from day one. It appears that LINZ have now walked away from the project and left DoC with a system which isn’t up to the replacing the old one.”

“The warning bells were ringing from the start. There needs to be accountability for the taxpayers’ money that has been wasted on a computer system that doesn’t work.”

“DoC’s internal ‘closure report’ skims over the two damning Deloitte reports. It suggests that no lessons have been learned.”

“While the Taxpayers’ Union is troubled by what has been uncovered, at least the public can now see how badly the project was mismanaged by DoC. The Taxpayers’ Unionbegan researching the issue after an anonymous tip off at taxpayers.org.nz.”

The information and reports by Deloitte released by DoC to the Taxpayers' Union are available at www.taxpayers.org.nz.

Q & A

What is the NaPALIS Programme?
The NaPALIS Programme and resulting new Land Management Information System was to bring together 9 business groups across LINZ and DoC to create a single, shared ‘source of the truth’ for over 40% of New Zealand’s Land totaling over $6 billion in value.
 
When was NaPALIS expected to go live?
NAPALIS was scheduled to go live in February 2012. In March 2012, this was revised to May 2012. It went ‘partially operational’ in September 2012. For DoC, the system is still not operational.

How much did the programme cost and is it finished?
The programme is now 18 months overdue and it still doesn’t work. To fix the bugs, DoC and LINZ initially increased the budget by $588,967 to $6,194,134. It appears that LINZ has now walked away from the project leaving DoC to allocate another $2 million to complete it.

What’s the latest $2 million for?
Despite the extra spending by DoC and LINZ, NaPALIS is still only partially operational.  The new $2 million allocated is to address (among other things):

  • work to resolve the majority of system defects necessary to make NaPALIS operational;
  • including the backlog of necessary changes that were not part of the initial data migration;
  • completing a technical review and considering design solutions;
  • resolving essential architecture issues; and
  • process development and system changes relating to Treaty of Waitangi matters.
What does the first expert review say?
There were warnings back in March 2013 when Deloitte published it first report. It shows that:
  • the role and authority of the NaPALIS was being “undermined”;
  • there was no external member of the Steering Committee;
  • there were issues of scope; and
  • that delays were persistent.
The report also says:
  • There was a lack of clarity around business ownership with DoC and LINZ
  • The Programme did not have a consistent approach to Independent Quality Assurance (‘IQA’) from the outset.
What does the subsequent independent report say? 
The February 2013 Deloitte report is even more critical of DoC.  The specific issues it identifies are:
  • ineffective governance;
  • inadequate business ownership;
  • lack of shared vision and shared outcome by DoC and LINZ for NaPALIS;
  • the NaPALIS Programme’s failure to deliver benefits to DoC;
  • lack of effective and inclusive requirements and development phase;
  • ineffective work on cultural alignment and change management between DoC and LINZ;
  • personality clashes between the DoC and LINZ;
  • an “us and them” approach - the report says:
  • “The Programme Manager was seen to be working only for LINZ most of the time, leaving DoC to flounder”;
  • lack of focus by the Programme Manager on achieving a joint outcome;
  • lack of accountability by the Programme Manager;
  • ineffective vendor management; and
  • lack of independent quality assurance.
The report’s conclusions include:
  • NaPALIS went live in September 2012 after a number of delays.  It was implemented over budget and several months after it was expected to be implemented.  We believe that there was potential to deliver a join successful outcome.  However, ineffective governance and management of the NaPALIS Programme has meant that a successful outcome has not been delivered forboth organisations. LINZ are using the new tools and processes that NaPALIS provides, whilst DoC do not feel able to use these new tools and processes effectively.  DoC are indicating that another Programme of work is required costing several hundred thousand dollars to get NaPALIS to a point where it will meet their business needs.”
  • “We do not believe that the Programme was set up well from the outset and that the Governance and Programme/Project Management controls that were put in place fell short of good practice.

Can the public access the material?
We’ve uploaded the information released by DoC under the Official Information Act is copied below.

ENDS 

DoC's reponse to Taxpayers' Union requests on NaPALIS

Tax break or corporate hand-out? A brief comment on Avatar deal

Yesterday the Prime Minister announced a deal with Hollywood studios that will allow up to 25% tax rebates on film production expenditure within New Zealand.

While we can all applaud our world-class film industry and the jobs the deal will create, why is the film industry so special? Many industries are still suffering from a high dollar and increased international competition. As the Government acknowledges (at least for film producers) tax matters when it comes to business choosing what country to invest - we compete against the world.  Why should less high profile or ‘cool’ industries shoulder the burden while the film industry is sheltered – would we better off if the Government worked harder to lower taxes for all?  

KPMG have a useful tool to compare tax rates (corporate, individual and indirect) on their website. 

Click here to comment on this blogpost via the Taxpayers' Union Facebook page. Should we working to become more competitive overall, or should we encourage our politicians to 'cut more deals'?  At what point does it become corporate hand-outs?

Mayor Brown must pay the money back

As widely covered by media over the weekend, the EY report into suspected misuse of Auckland Council resources by Len Brown is deeply concerning. In addition to the undeclared freebies (including undeclared gifts from Skycity - at the same time as publicly championing the convention centre deal) the report fails to deal with the concerns raised by the Taxpayers' Union in relation to the Mayor's trip to China in January 2013.

We still don't know for example:

  1. What was Mayor Brown's spending on the trip?
  2. Why was the trip not announced in the same way as other official trips by Mr Brown?
  3. Why did officials mislead us about the existence of the trip?
  4. Why were officials instructed to refer all enquires about the trip to Mr Brown's Chief of Staff?
  5. Were officials instructed not to disclose the existence of the trip?
  6. What was/is the Council or Mayor trying to hide?

Apology hollow without offer to refund Auckland ratepayers

Today we called on Mr Brown to pay back the money for both his personal expenses and undeclared gift listed in the EY report.  Without the offer to pay the money back, we think the apology made by Mr Brown today to ratepayers is meaningless.

 

MEDIA RELEASE

BROWN APOLOGY HOLLOW WITHOUT OFFER TO REFUND RATEPAYERS

16 DECEMBER 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Taxpayers’ Union is calling on Auckland Mayor Len Brown to pay back the amount owed to Auckland ratepayers for his personal expenses and undeclared gifts listed in the EY report released on Friday.
 
“Len Brown’s apology is meaningless without an offer to pay the money back,” saysTaxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams.
 
“Mayor Brown hasn’t addressed whether he will be paying back the $2,898 EY calculated were the costs of personal calls borne by ratepayers. While the nearly $40,000 worth of gifts Mayor Brown received were mostly services in kind, his failure to disclose them puts a moral obligation on Mayor Brown to pay for them.”

"Mayor Brown is one of the few senior Labour Party figures to publicly back the SkyCity Convention Centre deal. That we now know he was secretly receiving gifts of SkyCity raises serious questions. At the very least he should pay the money back," concludes Williams.

ENDS


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