3 Dec 2019

Charities Minister Poto Williams did not read report into Hepatitis Foundation's spending

3:17 pm on 3 December 2019

Community and Voluntary Sector Minister Poto Williams hasn't read a damning report into the Hepatitis Foundation's extravagant spending and wasn't aware her department was refusing interviews.

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Community and Voluntary Sector Minister Poto Williams. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

RNZ revealed last week the foundation spent more than $128,000 on travel over two years for its board chairperson and paid for lavish dinners at top restaurants.

Charities Services completed its two-year inquiry into the foundation last year, but never published its findings.

The foundation has called in a firm of accountants to review the regulator's findings, which it says contains inaccuracies the charity has long contested.

The foundation's board strongly rejects many of the claims in the report, including that the travel was unapproved, unreported or inappropriate.

The minister-in-charge, Ms Williams, couldn't explain why she hadn't read the report or when she first heard about it.

Ms Williams said the investigation was largely an operational matter and she was unaware the regulator had refused RNZ's interviews.

"I will have to take that back to Charities Services, so I wasn't aware they hadn't made any comment at all,'' she said.

The foundation receives millions of dollars from the Ministry of Health but won't say if taxpayers are funding the audit.

The ministry redirected RNZ's questions about what money was being used back to the foundation to answer.

Ms Williams was also unsure who is forking out for the audit.

"That's speculative so I'm not really going to comment on that. I'm going to wait and see what comes out of this before I make any comment on that,'' she said.

Health minister David Clark

David Clark Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

Health Minister David Clark said he didn't know whether the audit was being paid for using money from his department.

"I have had advice from officials that lets me know very clearly that they're monitoring this incredibly closely. I've had assurances from highest levels in the ministry that this is being monitored appropriately now and watched very closely."

The regulator said it stood by its investigation into the foundation and its findings.

In a statement, the Hepatitis Foundation (HFNZ) said it had engaged KPMG to investigate two potential issues about expenses raised by Charities Services in 2015.

"Charities Services investigated four issues and, while it found there was no serious wrongdoing on two of the issues, it appears inconclusive on two other issues," the foundation's chief executive Susan Hay said.

"We are extremely disappointed in the way the findings of the Charities Services investigation have been misinterpreted and the resulting damage to the foundation's reputation. There were two claims regarding international travel and the Alexander Property Trust (APT). In both cases HFNZ has been exonerated," she said.

"Two inconclusive findings in the Charities Services report about expenses from 2014 have created confusion and media speculation, and we hope the KPMG analysis will clear this up once and for all."

The expenses relate to a dinner for HFNZ staff, which Ms Hay said conformed to organisational policies.

"I will work closely with Charities Services to fix any outstanding issues, following the results of the KPMG analysis,'' she said.

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