20 Nov 2017

Waikato DHB chair: I'm not to blame for spending scandal

6:52 pm on 20 November 2017

The head of the Waikato District Health Board says he was unaware of the scale of travel by its former chief executive, and he is angry about the spending scandal that's engulfed his DHB.

Waikato District Health Board Chief Executive Dr Nigel Murray.

Former Waikato DHB chief executive Nigel Murray Photo: RNZ/ Joanne O'Brien

Former chief executive Nigel Murray, who was on a salary of $560,000, resigned in early October over mounting concern over his spending.

His resignation coincided with a DHB decision to end a barrister-led investigation it had ordered into the spending.

The New Zealand Herald has reported that Dr Murray spent 183 days travelling last year, 40 of them internationally.

Chairman Bob Simcock has reiterated that he is not to blame for over-spending by Mr Murray, and would not resign.

Mr Simcock told RNZ he had not taken a tally of the days Dr Murray was away and could not say exactly how much was not authorised.

"Quite clearly he acted outside of policy on a number of occasions. We have procedures and policies around how bookings are made and it's become clear that a number of those bookings were made outside of those processes."

Mr Simcock rejected the view that it was his own job to ensure Dr Murray acted correctly.

"Well actually, it's his primary responsibility. But certainly I was aware of what I was authorising. It's very difficult for me as a chair to be aware of things that are not put in front of me," he said.

"I was aware that he was travelling quite a bit but again I was not always aware when he was away or not. We spoke regularly, mostly by phone, and it's obviously apparent now that I wasn't necessarily aware of where he was when he was speaking on the phone."

Asked if he felt hoodwinked by his former chief executive, Mr Simcock said he felt "incredibly angry".

"Not just at a personal level but actually I think the pressure it's put on our organisation over the last several months now has had a big effect on our staff. They've had to carry on doing the work that they do every day with all of this coverage going on in the media and it certainly hasn't helped them in that process."

He added later: "I'm not going to comment on whether he played us for a fool. Certainly he didn't comply with policies and processes that we would expect him to comply with."

The DHB has confirmed it spent $145,360 on the expenses spending scandal, $76,860 to outside sources and $68,500 internally.

The costs include almost $55,000 to an Auckland barrister to investigate the spending and $33,585 for legal fees for staff and board members associated with the investigation at the DHB.

Nine staff were involved in compiling information for the investigation, which took an estimated 950 hours. As well, forensic investigation of accounts had cost the DHB $9975, and public relations advice $10,889.

The DHB also paid Dr Murray $148,521 while he was on leave from 1 July until 5 October this year.

Mr Simcock agreed the spending of $145,360 was not a good look for the DHB, which was under financial constraints along with others.

"I think it's totally unacceptable for all of us that were having to go through this process, but once issues were raised we do have the right to investigate them, and it has a cost associated with it."

Mr Simcock stood by the decision to end its own investigation into the spending, when Dr Murray resigned.

"The legal advice that we have was very strongly that it was in the best interests of the DHB to do that."

He said the investigation findings could be ordered to be released by either the Ombudsman or the State Services Commission.

The Commission has begun an investigation, led by former commissioner John Ombler into the topic, at the direction of the new Health Minister David Clark. Dr Clark said today the investigation will include oversight of the issue by Mr Simcock, as board chair.

Mr Simcock said he did not know where Dr Murray was now and they communicate "through lawyers". He himself was not intending to resign because of the scandal, saying he had a job to do and he was keen to see it progressed.

Meanwhile, a report by Audit New Zealand on the spending is expected to be discussed at the DHB's audit and risk board meeting on Wednesday. The DHB said it would be discussed in closed committee, but it may release the section on Dr Murray's expenses afterwards.

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