Friday, December 24, 2010

Funding his mates

Back in the Budget in May, the government handed out $4.8 million to the Pacific Economic Development Agency to "boost enterprise" in Auckland's Pacific community. Questions were raised at the time over why an unknown company with no track record in the area was being given so much money without any tender process - especially when it emerged that it was run by a National Party supporter with close ties to an expected National candidate. And now we know why: because Bill English said so:

A trail of documents show a lack of communication, an absence of Cabinet papers and the lone hand of Finance Minister Bill English in approving $4.8 million in public money for an agency that was ultimately left out in the cold.


The trail of emails suggest Mr English approved the money without telling the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs or the Treasury.

His office told the Treasury on March 17 that the minister had approved the appropriation so officials could include it in the Budget in May.

The following morning, a Treasury official emailed the ministry: "We don't know a great deal more about this initiative. However, ministers have made the decision to fund this - presume someone in [Pacific Island Affairs] must know about it?"

A ministry official replied: "The information we have over here on this is very sketchy. Are you able to send us or point us in the direction of the Cabinet papers so we can proceed? [Ministry chief executive Colin Tukuitonga] said that he was involved in discussions back in Nov 09 but had heard nothing since."

So, the Ministry, from whom any Budget bid should have originated, knew nothing. Treasury knew nothing. It was all Bill English, who was pretty transparently rewarding his mates (and trying to boost National's 2011 electoral chances) with public money.

It doesn't matter which side of the political spectrum you're on: this is just wrong. It is corrupt. And preventing this sort of looting of the state is precisely why we have tender requirements and transparency. English abused his power as Finance Minister to sidestep all of those safeguards. And he should be held accountable for it.