19 Jun 2023

Meng Foon says government handling of resignation 'absolute shambles'

12:47 pm on 19 June 2023
Meng Foon Race Relations Commissioner and former Gisborne mayor

Meng Foon Race Relations Commissioner and former Gisborne mayor Photo: Supplied

Meng Foon, whose resignation as Race Relations Commissioner was revealed last week, says the government's handling of the matter is an "absolute shambles".

Foon says he is uncertain whether he has officially resigned or not, and he is waiting to hear from the government about next steps.

The government announced on Friday Foon had tendered his resignation after failing to adequately disclose a conflict of interest relating to more than $2 million paid to a company he was director of, for accommodation including emergency housing.

Foon told RNZ he had on Friday morning emailed the prime minister to warn of his intention to resign on Sunday.

"So, as a courtesy email to the prime minister, I said 'look, the associate minister [of Justice, Deborah Russell] is deciding, highly probable that she's going to sack me and so I'm going to resign, and I'll resign this Sunday'," he said.

"This is a Meng's process. Because I've been in local government and other organisations, I know the sensitivity of politics, and so it's always a heads-up with a note, quickly to the prime minister or to ministers - no suprises, this is the topic on hand - and leave it at that."

However, he did not offer his resignation on Sunday because the news of his resignation had been "leaked" on Friday.

"I'm as confused as you are regarding my resignation," he said. "The news had already said that I had resigned, so that message must have leaked out into the cosmos somehow.

"Yeah, they need to tell me what the process is ... was the one that I sent to the prime minister enough? You know what I mean."

He said the government's approach and the process followed had been an "absolute shambles".

"I'm not quite sure what's happening and no one's spoken to me, so I'm just waiting to see what they're going to do.

"According to my knowledge, I still hold the warrant of the Race Relations Commissioner, they haven't said that it's been cancelled or anything. I don't know, I've never been sacked before so it's quite interesting. I've never resigned from anything before either."

He also continued to dispute the government's claim he had not declared his interests in the emergency housing provider.

"I refute strongly. I did declare," he said. "I sent it to the Ministry of Justice that I was involved in Emergency Housing and I sent it to the Human Rights Commission before I was formally signed off by the Governor-General and before I actually started at the Human Rights Commission."

"I've been mayor and councillor and we're very strict on declarations. I'm not an idiot, I know what I'm doing. So you come to a new organisation and they said 'oh, that's not important', so I don't know what they're thinking now."

Foon has provided RNZ with documentation which seemed to suggest he did declare his conflict when he took on the role, but RNZ is yet to verify and confirm this with the minister or the Human Rights Commission.