Back in August, National announced they were handing a $284 million contract to build a new convention centre in Christchurch to a consortium which included the Speaker’s brother. From the outside, it looks like cronyism, if not outright corruption, and in such cases, the onus is on the government to front up and show that the crony was in fact the best bidder. So did they? Yeah, right:
I wanted to know more, so I fired off an OIA request. Mr Brownlee refused to respond until after the election, even though this breached the normal four week time limit. Sadly, that was no surprise. He finally responded on 13 October, some nine weeks after receiving my request.
And what his reply reveals is… nothing at all, except the need for more investigating.
About half of the documents Minister Brownlee has released to me (part 1, part 2) have been redacted, including it appears any mention at all of Philip Carter of the Carter Group. They just aren’t there at all. Curious.
That’s not quite correct – they’re mentioned in a footnote on p13 of part 2 as being one of the constituents of the Plenary group. And only mentioning them in that way seems appropriate – Plenary is the official bidder. So I don’t think that’s curious. No, what’s curious is that all information on the process for selecting the consortium was withheld. All we know is that the RFP was sent to five “previously shortlisted consortia” and that
Plenary’s proposal also met the requirements of the Request for Proposal
Which, in a prima facie case of cronyism, seems oddly weak – and especially compared with the information released on the operation RFP, where they say outright that “Accor was the top ranking respondent”. If there was a similar statement about Plenary, they’d release it. The absence of such a statement suggests that the Speaker’s brother’s consortium was notthe top-ranked option.
The government owes us some answers here. They’re refusing to give them. And based on what they’ve released, it looks a lot like they’ve got something to hide.
lprent: Idiot Savant followed up with a later post on the same topic.
Also interesting in that OIA release about the Christchurch Convention Centre contract is the withholding of information under s9(2)(k) to
prevent the disclosure or use of official information for improper gain or improper advantage.
This is a rarely-used clause, and this is the first time I’ve seen it used in a commercial tender context (normally in such cases information is withheld as commercially sensitive, provided in confidence, or under the negotiations clause). And as the Ombudsman’s guidelines make clear, “improper” gain is a very high threshold to meet, requiring the expected use to be almost illegal or extremely morally dubious. Its very hard to see that in this case, especially as the requester is not a bidder in the process and cannot gain any advantage by it. Instead, the obvious suspicion is that Brownlee thinks that the information will be used politically by the opposition, and that makes it “improper”. Which tells us a great deal about the government’s attitude to democracy and the law…