6 Apr 2018

Jones says he forgot about officials' warning project was a lemon

5:43 am on 6 April 2018

Officials have contradicted Regional Development Minister Shane Jones, saying he was fully aware experts thought a project he was backing was a lemon.

NZ First MP Shane Jones is Minister for Forestry, Infrastructure, and Regional Economic Development.

Shane Jones said he genuinely forgot that he had been briefed by officials on a feasibility study for a waste-to-energy scheme Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Mr Jones granted $350,000 for a feasibility study for a West Coast waste-to-energy scheme - despite experts rubbishing it.

He then had to put it on ice after RNZ told him the main man behind the scheme had been referred to the Serious Fraud Office.

When asked earlier this week why he had backed the scheme given Environment Ministry experts were saying the project was a total lemon - Mr Jones responded that he'd never received the advice and even if he had it would have made no difference.

"If [the Ministry for the Environment] believe that they are an authoritative source for all that kind of information, then the fact that they had one email that I have never seen, knew nothing about, suggests to me that it's just part of the Darwinistic bureaucratic debate."

A few hours after that story aired some public servants got in touch with RNZ and provided an email trail showing their minister was fully briefed by his official John Doorbar and he knew full-well experts considered it a lemon.

Mr Jones said he genuinely just forgot all about it.

"Obviously so busy and so many things floating around in the square head that I overlooked that one."

RNZ asked whether Mr Jones thought his remarks about bureaucrats may have inspired such a quick response.

"I have a lot of confidence in John Doorbar, he's a straight shooter and in politics we all occasionally don't want things to hound us, but you inevitably find the best place to hide is in the open."

National's Paul Goldsmith asked the minister about it in the House.

"When the minister said on Tuesday that even if he had been aware of the Ministry for the Environment advice that the proposed waste to energy scheme did not stack up economically or environmentally - 'it makes not one jot of difference to me' - did he mean that he did not need advice."

Mr Jones replied that it had been pointed out to him that he was briefed by officials on the project during the preparation of February's announcements.

"But I find there's a connection between bureaucratic dross and political amnesia from time to time."

Mr Goldsmith said he did not know what to make of a minister who did not pay attention to briefings on projects he was funding, and then cited political amnesia.

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