27 Aug 2014

Call for Motiti official to step down

7:37 am on 27 August 2014

A Motiti Island group is calling for the resignation of the man who acts a planning officer for the remote island, saying he has a conflict of interest.

Keith Frentz, who is contracted by the Government to protect the island's environment and community, is also working on behalf of the owners of the container ship Rena, which ran aground on Astrolabe Reef, off Tauranga, in 2011.

The grounding on Astrolabe Reef created one of New Zealand's worst maritime and environmental disasters.

The grounding of the Rena on Astrolabe Reef created one of New Zealand's worst maritime disasters. Photo: RENA PROJECT

Documents seen by Radio New Zealand show the Crown was to pay $54,600 plus disbursements of $6500 for the drawing up of a District Plan for Motiti Island. That agreement for services is signed by the Department of Internal Affairs and Mr Frentz, an employee of contracting firm Beca.

Appeals to the District Plan are being heard in the Environment Court.

Keith Frentz has also signed the Rena owner's resource consent application to leave the wreck where it is, in his role as a technical director at Beca.

The campaign for the removal of the wreck is being fought by two groups from Motiti Island - the Motiti Rohe Moana Trust and Ngai Te Hapu. They have taken their case to the Waitangi Tribunal, which has released an interim report which mentions the two roles Mr Frentz plays.

Buddy Mikaere, from Ngai Te Hapu, says there is a clear conflict between what the owners and insurers want and what the people on the island want.

Mr Mikaere says Mr Frentz is a very professional man, but believes he can't comfortably carry out both roles. He says Beca should drop at least one of the contracts - and if it doesn't, the contracting firm is opening itself and its advice up to a challenge in the courts.

Nick Russell, a partner at law firm Chen Palmer, says Keith Frentz's roles are potentially a conflict of interest - especially if he comments on matters to do with the Rena during the planning process.

He says conflicts like this are usually managed in house, and someone else is brought in to cover the person who may have the conflict.

Mr Russell says the question is if the perceived conflict has been declared and how it has been dealt with by the Department of Internal Affairs.

Keith Frentz did not want to be interviewed.

In a statement, the department said there is no conflict of interest and Mr Frentz will keep his job as local planning officer. It says it has full confidence in the professionalism of Beca and its staff to manage numerous contracts.

The department says Mr Frentz has not advised the Government on the Rena application.

A spokesperson for the owners of the vessel says any implication that Mr Frentz or Beca have behaved improperly and unprofessionally is false.

In a statement, the owners say Mr Frentz is only dealing with a land-based plan for Motiti, which does not apply to the coastal marine area.

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