15 Jun 2017

Auckland Council spends $15k on Pacific leaders lunch

7:07 pm on 15 June 2017

An Auckland councillor is demanding answers over why $15,000 was spent on an invitation-only lunch to ask Pacific leaders about their views on Easter Sunday trading.

Auckland Council logo.

Auckland Council said in a statement it was reviewing what happened. Photo: RNZ

The invitation to a buffet lunch last Tuesday at the Waipuna Lodge was sent out to 58 Pacific community and church leaders.

Mayor Phil Goff and councillor Efeso Collins at the Auckland Council swearing in ceremony.

Councillor Fa'anānā Efeso Collins, right, during his swearing-in ceremony Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Councillor Fa'anānā Efeso Collins said the amount spent was outrageous and a huge cost to the ratepayer, at about $250 per attendee.

"I don't think that's a good spend of money and I don't understand why it was invitation-only when this was about going into the public, consulting the community so that they had a voice.

"The council should have gone through the service agreement to make sure that the consultation process was going to be above board, was going to be genuinely public."

The council had sought Aucklanders' opinions on Easter trading hours online through to 11 June.

It also contracted work to gauge the opinion of select groups, one of which was Pacific people.

The consultant who had the contract to engage with Pacific people was Yvonne Timaloa, managing director of Waycom.

Ms Timaloa said the council knew what she was doing, and had signed off on the cost.

She confirmed the lunch cost $15,000 but said it was part of a wider $25,000 contract the council had agreed to.

Ms Timaloa said there was no tendering process for the contract.

"They gave a brief and told me to come in and we talked about it... they had their ideas and I had my ideas about what we could do in the time we had left. Because I'd done a lot of engagement for the council in the past... that's how it came about."

But Ms Timaloa said she wasn't comfortable that the two Pacific councillors, Fa'anānā Efeso Collins and Alf Filipaina, weren't at the lunch.

"Because it's a Pacific leaders fono [meeting], we need our Pacific leaders who are in council to be present.

"I'd written it in my proposal, I verbally said it to the council when we spoke. So I was surprised to find out later on that they weren't coming.

"And then I was told that I can't communicate with the councillors because it's a senior management liaison. So I stayed out of it."

She said she urged the social policy and community development teams she was working with to ask the two Pacific councillors to spread the word among their own Pacific networks.

Councillor Fa'anānā Efeso Collins said he never got that message, and only heard about it after the fact.

He had emailed the council's chief executive, Stephen Town, last Thursday for an explanation, and said he had received a reply yesterday indicating the council was reviewing his concerns.

In a separate statement, council acting chief of strategy Jacques Victor said it was "looking into the concerns raised by Councillor Collins to see what we could have done better".

"Where lessons can be learned, we will work alongside him and other members of the community to make any improvements needed," the statement said.

Auckland Council manager of social policy and bylaws Michael Sinclair confirmed the delivery of the fono workshop cost $15,500.

It included designing the fono, facilitation, the venue hire and associated hosting costs, he said.

"The meeting included a presentation on the decision that the council is making on Easter Sunday trading and the feedback we are seeking, as well as a facilitated discussion amongst leaders in order to get their feedback. A meal was served at the end of the meeting session."

The fono was one of many initiatives used to get feedback on this topic, he said.

Mr Sinclair said results from the fono workshop, online and representatives surveys and interviews would be analysed in the next few weeks and a report will be presented to the governing body in August.