22 Sep 2022

National welcomes review into process for awarding government contracts

12:35 pm on 22 September 2022
Simeon Brown

National Party public service spokesperson Simeon Brown says New Zealanders have 'high expectations' around procurement processes. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

An investigation is set to examine any potential conflict of interest in contracts between government agencies and the consultancy company owned by Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta's husband.

Gannin Ormsby's business Ka Awatea Services was awarded contracts with Kāinga Ora, the Ministry for the Environment, the Department of Conservation and Te Pūni Kōkiri.

National Party public service spokesperson Simeon Brown was the catalyst for the investigation after he wrote to the Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes.

Brown told Morning Report that New Zealanders had "high expectations" around procurement processes and National believed it was "worth the Public Service Commissioner looking into" the awarding of the contracts.

He said the perceived conflict of interest issues became "more contentious" when the procurement process for the awarding of the contracts was also taken into account.

Brown said information National had received through the Official Information Act (OIA) and through written questions indicated none of the contracts had been contestable.

"There was no open source or open tender process to actually test whether there were other people who could do the job who didn't have that conflict of interest at the time," he said.

"Three of [the contracts] are currently under internal reviews as well, by their own departments, due to the questions around procurement processes, and so I think that just added further weight to the need for actually a wider investigation independent of the actual departments which issued the contracts in the first place."

Brown said there were "serious questions", particularly regarding the contract with Te Pūni Kōkiri.

He said the funding application in that case - which was to do with a suicide prevention programme - listed Mahuta as one of the panellists who was going to provide work for the programme for which funding was being sought.

The application listed Mahuta as being someone with "knowledge in governance and international relations", Brown said.

"I think that raises questions around whether Mr Gannan Ormsby was using the position that his wife has as a minister, in order to try and get a contract."

Brown said he believed the total value of the combined contracts was "close to $200,000".

"It adds up to a relatively large sum of money."

He said it appeared Hughes' investigation, which was announced yesterday, would likely be wide-ranging.

"We expect that that is a thorough process; the question will be ... how wide does he go? It does seem that he is looking to go wider than just these four contracts to see if there's anything else out there, which I'm pleased to see.

"We want to make sure that the public can have trust and confidence in how these processes are being followed, because it's taxpayers' money that needs to be respected, at the end of the day."

A conflict of interest should not necessarily stop a person from getting a job, Brown said, but open procurement processes were important to "test the market" and ensure whoever was hired was "the best person for the job".

"Ministers and their families shouldn't be seen to be benefiting - potentially - from work they do for governments and the positions they hold."

Investigation will provide 'extra transparency' - PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a media stand-up in New York today that she retained confidence in Mahuta, who supported the investigation.

Mahuta had followed the rules regarding family members involved in government business, Ardern said, and the investigation would give the public confidence that was the case.

"The minister herself has just been focused on making sure at every step she's done the right thing; family members have, we're all confident of that but this is a way we can provide that extra transparency."

Ardern said with a country the size and New Zealand there would be some cross over between politicians and their family members.

That was why "robust" systems existed.

Mahuta, Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins, and Hughes all declined RNZ's requests for an interview.