Another example of cronyism from disgraced former minister Nick Smith has emerged. He overrode officials at the Ministry for the Environment, who had declined an application for $200,000 for meetings to resolve disputes between farmers and environmentalists in the Mackenzie Basin and Waitaki Valley, so a former Nat candidate could pocket the cash.
Here‘s what officials had to say about the project we were being asked to fund:
Environment Ministry emails reveal officials had reservations about the project. Deputy secretary at the time Sue Powell wrote in October: “We remain deeply concerned at the level of professional fees being paid into this process; some of the costs charged also have us concerned.”
Environment Canterbury chief executive Bill Bayfield also had no truck with the initiative. The agency stumped up $5000 in October but he balked when asked for more cash. In January he wrote to the ministry: “God, these people are annoying. One of the reasons I was willing to underwrite their meeting before Christmas was to get them out of the way.”
He worried the process conflicted with Canterbury’s water management strategy, calling it a “silly and potentially confusing overlap in a small community”.
But Nick Smith insisted that the money be paid out (funny, you would have thought that was one of those ‘operational matters’). $180,000 as paid out:
More than half the cash went to environmental consultants – including about $88,000 to Ecologic, a firm run by Dr Smith’s friend Guy Salmon. Mr Salmon is also linked to the National Party ginger group the BlueGreens….
A series of two-day meetings cost about $25,000 per event and officials worked out Mr Salmon was receiving three-quarters of that – about $18,000 per meeting.
More than that, Salmon was a National Party candidate in 2002. And not a joke at the bottom of the list, either, he only just missed out.
Key, of course, is relaxed:
He added: “I’m sure someone will have a cursory look at it . . . Maybe the minister’s office or my office . . . I don’t see it as a terribly big issue but I’ll reserve the judgment to go and have a look at it.”
But Grant Robertson points out this has a familiar stink about it:
“This project was highly political. For goodness sake, the trust was launched at a conference for the Blue Greens . . . the Government must clarify how the trust came to be funded. At the moment the public are being left with the all too familiar stench of National Party cronyism.”
I reckon Nick Smith can kiss his hopes of coming back to cabinet goodbye.