12 Sep 2016

Complaint laid over Gisborne mayor's $20 koha

6:25 pm on 12 September 2016

A complaint has been laid against Gisborne's mayor Meng Foon after he placed money on a table at a Father's Day function last week.

Gisborne District mayor Meng Foon

Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon Photo: New Zealand Government

Mr Foon is one of just a handful of mayors who have served for five consecutive terms. He is campaigning for a sixth, but a local resident, Peter Jones, has now made a police complaint against him, alleging he bought beer for people at a Gisborne bar a fortnight ago.

Police confirmed a complaint about Mr Foon was being investigated, but would not comment further.

Mr Jones said he had laid the complaint under the "treating" rules, which applied when a person directly or indirectly gave or provided food, drink or entertainment to influence any voter or vote - before, during or after an election.

Mr Foon only learned through RNZ that a complaint had been laid against him, and said he had been attending a function where a local kaumatua was turning 83 years old.

He said he often gave small koha at tangi and celebrations, and said it was his culture and the culture of the Tairāwhiti too.

"I put the $20 note on the table," he said, "Because it's Beau Shane [Tuhaka]'s birthday."

"'Cause that's what I always do [when] I go to tangi, I go to birthday, and koha is what I always do - it's a normal thing."

Mr Jones, who was also standing for a place on the Gisborne District Council, said he was at the function where Mr Foon allegedly offered money to buy beer.

"All of a sudden, there was a $20 note on the table, you know, there were actually two of them, and the bros starting laughing at me and going 'oh, Meng's just shouted you a beer' and 'you're going to have a beer on Meng Foon'," Mr Jones said.

Mr Jones admitted he didn't actually see Mr Foon place the money down, nor was he present for the conversation.

Otago University Professor Andrew Geddis said the offence called "treating" hadn't been upheld for nearly a century.

"You really have to go back to the 1920s for the last time that this was bought before a court where a court did overturn a candidate at a national level on the basis that the candidate had treated his voters.

"Treating is where you corruptly give someone food or drink with the intention of influencing their vote. Alcohol especially is something the law frowns upon in election circumstances."

Mr Foon, who is Chinese-born, is fluent in three languages, including te reo Māori, and said he often gave a small koha from his own pocket to acknowledge a birthday or tangi.

He said that in this election period he had given such donations to two other 80-year-olds and at a tangihanga.

Mr Foon disputed that his actions had been corrupt and said he was happy to put his practices on the record.

"Let's put it out there - I buy raffles, I give koha to tangihanga, I give koha to birthdays, I buy tickets to go to certain events," he said.

"And so hey, this is the role of the mayor, or this Chinese mayor anyway - I'm not so sure about other mayors, I'll speak for myself - but definitely this is the way that I support our community culturally and respectfully."

Professor Geddis said there were two outcomes if a treating allegation was upheld: police could prosecute the individual, or the election could be challenged and a new election called.

Neither police nor the election service running the Gisborne district elections would comment on the complaint.