What’s to stop a government minister taking taxpayer money and giving it to, say, a family friend or a political slush fund? In theory, lots. There’s a formal budget-formation process through the ministeries and Cabinet, the Budget then has to be approved by Parliament, and the PM would sack any minister who tried such blatant corruption. Wouldn’t he?
Bill English tried to kill the PEDA issue by finally releasing OIA papers to the Herald two days before Christmas. Let’s re-cap:
Documents obtained by the Herald show that after meeting Pacific leaders in Auckland, he decided to grant a little-known private company, the Pacific Economic Development Agency (Peda), $4.8 million for Pacific youth programmes.
When his office informed the Treasury in March, officials asked the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs for information, but no one at the ministry knew of the initiative.
When ministry officials told the Treasury they know nothing, a Treasury analyst responded: “We are even more in the dark on this one – there are no Cabinet papers or anything else … maybe worth asking your minister’s office.”
A few days later, the ministry had evaluated Peda as untested, inexperienced and with a track record of not working well with others. But it proposed working with Peda to mitigate these risks in a robust purchase agreement.
The Cabinet did not approve the proposal until a month after Mr English’s instructions to the Treasury to include the money for Peda in the Budget.
On June 22, Goff tried to get English to explain what he was up to:
Phil Goff: Why does the minister not simply come clean and acknowledge that he, rather than Mrs te Heuheu, negotiated this deal, and that it was done without the normal standards of transparency, accountability and due diligence that should have been followed before he included the commitment to a specific untested agency in the Budget?
Bill English: Because that is simply not correct.
After that, the government decided to have an open tender process after all, despite that contradicting the authority to spend the money given to the government in the Budget it had just passed through Parliament.
The money was announced in May as going to Peda, but in August the ministry opened it up to a competitive tender process. Just before Christmas it announced four providers for the contract. Peda was not among them.
“Usually if you’re making a proper decision, you’d be looking for advice from Treasury, advice from the relevant ministry, and normally you’d run a tender process to ensure you were getting the best value for money.”
That’s putting it mildly. Something very, very suspect has been going on here.
We need to know why English bypassed the usual checks and balances on government spending to try to give $4.8 million specifically to this unknown organisation. We need to know about Mary English’s links to PEDA, if any. We need to know more about the links of prospective National Party candidates Michael Jones and Inga Tuigamala to PEDA.
So far, the only government reaction has been from English’s spokesman, who said: “Ministers oversee the Budget process – officials don’t make Budget decisions”
In other words, ‘fuck off. We’ll do what we want with your money’
Not good enough. The Prime Minister (do we still have one of those? Is he back from his month’s holiday yet?) needs to commission an independent investigation into this issue.
Bill ‘Double Dipton’ English, the first Finance Minister in the world to lead his country into the second dip of recession, has already been caught with his hand in the till once – claiming out-town-allowances for living in his family home in Wellington. I suspect that a proper investigation in the PEDA money will show he has once again been rorting the taxpayer for personal or party political ends.
If there is an investigation, English’s days are numbered.
Which is exactly why John Key will try to make sure there isn’t one.