Written By: - Date published: 12:22 pm, November 26th, 2015 - 45 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, accountability, corruption, national - Tags: corrupt, misuse of taxpayer money, parmjeet parmar, public service
Labour pointed this out a week ago – Investigation needed into roadshow promo
Labour’s State Services spokesperson Kris Faafoi is calling for the Auditor-General and the State Services Commissioner to investigate concerns that taxpayer money and departmental resources are being used for political campaigning.
“Documents released to Labour under the Official Information Act reveal Housing NZ staff working with ‘National HQ’ on filtering data for a roadshow to promote the Government’s Homestart scheme.
“The documents were heavily redacted. However in what appears to be an error in editing, a previously blacked out paragraph also shows National List MP Parmjeet Parmar wanted to co-host the event in Maungakiekie as a means of raising her profile.
“These meetings were supposed to have been organised and paid for by Housing NZ – in other words the taxpayer – as a way of explaining Homestart to the public.
“What’s patently obvious is that they have become a vehicle for National Party campaigning, aided by ministerial staff.
“That is a flagrant mis-use of public money and raises questions about the neutrality of the public service.
Yesterday Vernon Small picked it up as part of a broader context – Public watchdogs need to bare their teeth over misuse of OIA, taxpayer events
Let’s hope the Auditor-General, the State Services Commission or even the Ombudsman have a handy tonne of bricks.
Because something ought to be brought down hard on the officials involved in the preparation – and subsequent censoring – of information relating to various KiwiSaver HomeStart “roadshows” held around the country this year.
To recap, the documents released to Labour MP Kris Faafoi show among other things that Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith’s office was coaching MPs on hosting the roadshows – nothing necessarily wrong in that.
But they also show a disturbing willingness to use a taxpayer-funded event to promote a purely political agenda, which reached its low point with the note that list MP Parmjeet Parmar “has also expressed strong interest in hosting a roadshow as she is keen to raise local profile in Mt Roskill in case of a by-election”.
The offending sentence was cut from several of the documents, but left – inadvertently it seems – in one of the email trails released under the Official Information Act.
Also redacted from all but one document as “out of scope” was the advice that: “A condition for hosting the roadshow is for Minister Lotu-Iiga to send a direct mail invitation to constituents who fall with the relevant demographic as we have found this to be a particularly effective method of promotion. National HQ will provide the filtered data (via Brian Anderton cc’d) and we will provide the letter template.”
It also tells MPs they are “welcome to do party-branded advertising, and Brian can supply templates for billboards and newspaper ads that have been used previously”. Anderton is another official in Smith’s office.
Now, there is always a fine line between MPs (and government departments) promoting the government’s programme and what is overtly political. But the reference to Parmar’s political ambitions and the close liaison with National Party headquarters takes the whole thing well outside the bounds of acceptability.
Oddly, it’s almost a year to the day since I wrote in a similar vein after Cheryl Gwyn’s report into the Security Intelligence Service and then director Warren Tucker’s actions. She found that there was “harm to the leader of the Opposition” from the SIS’s blunders, though its actions were not taken “for the purpose” of harming a political party or for “any partisan political purpose on the part of the director and/or the NZSIS”.
This latest saga is by no means as serious, but the issues – and the threats to public service neutrality (or at least the appearance of neutrality) have not gone away.
Campaigning with public money. Politicising the public service. Cabinet club is cash for access. This is a corrupt government.