30 Nov 2017

Murray may have spent more than officially recorded - Audit NZ

6:46 pm on 30 November 2017

The former head of the Waikato District Health Board (DHB), who resigned part-way through an investigation into his excessive travel costs, may have spent more than the official record shows, according to Audit NZ.

Nigel Murray resigned as the head of the Waikato DHB in October.

Nigel Murray resigned as the head of the Waikato DHB in October. Photo: RNZ

The report into $218,000 worth of spending by Nigel Murray over three years, revealed by RNZ on Friday, showed he booked travel without approval, travelled overseas while on sick leave and spent DHB money on personal trips.

In the final report released today, Audit New Zealand said auditors had still not received all the information requested.

They had sought "explanations and clarifications on a number of issues", but were told by staff the DHB did not hold all the information because Dr Murray - who resigned in October - made his own travel bookings in some cases.

Auditors traced expenses from the State Services Commission's request forms, travel booking confirmations and approval documentation.

"There is a possibility that expenses have been incurred by the previous chief executive that are not listed on the returns and these have not been tested," the report said.

Dr Murray declined to be interviewed and said through his lawyer, Calum Cartwright, that it would be "inappropriate" to comment as the matters were subject to ongoing investigations.

Mr Cartwright said Dr Murray had never been contacted by Audit New Zealand or the DHB to give his comment on the report.

The board's new acting chair, Sally Webb, who stepped in after Bob Simcock's resignation on Tuesday, said as the audit process was document-based she would not have expected investigators to contact Dr Murray for more information.

DHB spokesperson Maureen Chrystall said while a report of this nature would normally be confidential, the Audit and Risk committee had agreed to release it due to public interest.

The board accepted all its recommendations and would monitor compliance on a regular basis from now on, she said.

However, the report did not find any other staff had problems keeping the rules.

"By and large we are a DHB that is compliant with policy. Having said that, there are improvements we can make and will certainly take on board the recommendations and ensure we're making those mechanisms work for our future chief executives as well."

Since October, the expenses of the chief executive and the executive directors have been reported to the board monthly.

Mr Simcock stepped down after the Serious Fraud Office confirmed it was looking at the case.

The State Services Commission is doing its own investigation, which is expected to conclude early next year.

Waikato DHB member Dave MacPherson said he believed the full scale of excessive spending by Dr Murray was yet to be revealed.

"I certainly personally believe the former chief executive owes us more money."

Audit NZ's recommendations and the DHB's responses:

1. The DHB ensures compliance with the DHB policies for approval of travel arrangements.

We are communicating requirements for compliance to policy and are actively monitoring compliance. The travel provider has a list of names of our travel coordinators from our travel office that are allowed to make all travel and accommodation bookings and changes. They also have a list of travel arrangers (nominated persons from approved departments that may make bookings for domestic travel and accommodation). Only the names on these lists are allowed to transact any normal bookings and changes through the travel provider.

2. The DHB clarifies its expectations for the authorisation of changes to travel arrangements.

We will address the expectation for authorisation of changes to travel in our next policy review. Our corporate travel provider will notify the manager of the travel office of any after-hours booking changes. The manager of the travel office will follow this up with the employee's manager, or chair in the case of the CE.

3. The DHB ensures that the business purpose for the travel is clearly set out in the approval requests, and that appropriate documentation, such as meeting agendas, are provided to support the request.

We agree that the travel purpose should be explicit and meaningful and supported by evidence when practical. We will communicate and monitor our expectations. Payroll will advise managers of issues with claim forms and return the claim, unpaid, for correction.

4. The DHB reinforces and reminds staff that the DHB's policy does not provide for the DHB to pay for any expenses relating to personal travel or accommodation.

We agree. This will be done in communications and we will monitor to ensure staff are complying.

5. The DHB ensures compliance with the DHB's processes. Consideration should be given to controls to prevent override.

We agree. We will monitor to ensure staff are complying.

6. The DHB ensures compliance with the DHB's policy.

We agree. This will be done in communications and we will monitor to ensure staff are complying.

7. The DHB ensures travel complies with the Office of the Auditor General's guidance on sensitive expenditure in the public sector.

We agree. This will be done in communications and we will monitor to ensure staff are complying.

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