The Labour Party is criticising New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) for spending $30,000 on pounamu pendants for its staff, saying it shows a culture of extravagance.
Expense figures revealed in NZTE's financial review show it bought all 500 employees a $55 pounamu in June last year.
NZTE chief executive Peter Chrisp said the gifts were presented to say thank you to staff after strong growth for export companies between 2011 and 2015.
"The improved performance at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise between 2011 and 2015 was the result of effort from all our people and could be seen in the improved results for the New Zealand export companies we work with, which in turn brings benefit to the economy and taxpayers.
"For example, between 2011 and 2015 annual revenue growth among the export companies we work with increased from $21 billion to $30 billion, the value of exporter deals rose from $443 million to $1.1 billion and 91 percent of our focus 700 companies said NZTE added value to their business.
"High employee engagement was key to these improved measures and to say thank you we presented all our staff with a small pendant carved from a single piece of Ngai Tahu pounamu stone," he said.
Mr Chrisp said having staff more motivated delivered better results for export businesses and they were therefore of better value to the taxpayer.
However Labour Party trade and export growth spokesperson David Clark is calling it extravagant and said it was hard to justify.
"If it's a thank you for staff you'd think a box of chocolates would suffice unless it was outstanding performance. Occasionally staff are given some other item for long service or perhaps for an extraordinary piece of work but to the best of my knowledge it's unprecedented to give an entire ministry a piece of jewellery as a kind of thank you present."
He said given spending by government ministries such as $140,000 by the Ministry of Innovation and Employment (MBIE) on a giant screen,] and a $2.6m staircase by the Ministry of Education, there was a culture of extravagance.
"To me this really raises a question about the proper use of tax payer funds. New Zealand tax payers pay their taxes generally without much fuss and they have a reasonable expectation that the money is well spent.
"This seems particularly strange in one of the core ministries responsible for delivery on the government's export growth target. The government has promised to lift exports as a proportion of GDP to 40 percent. They're now down below 30 percent and dropping."
Mr Clark said if anything the agency which was responsible for the government's export growth targets needed a hurry up, not a give away.