15 Sep 2023

Health Ministry seeks review of contracts it has awarded to firm with links to Peeni Henare

8:46 pm on 15 September 2023
Peeni Henare

The Health Ministry has commissioned an independent review of all the contracts it has awarded to a consultancy company with close ties to Peeni Henare. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The Health Ministry has commissioned an independent review of all contracts it has awarded to the company Tātou, a consultancy with close ties to Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare.

Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes has requested a copy of the findings to reassure him that all "appropriate procurement processes" were followed, including the proper management of any conflicts of interest.

Hughes, however, declined the National Party's request that he launch a broader review of all government contracts with Tātou and stressed he had no reason to believe "any impropriety had occurred".

"On the face of it, I have no information to suggest any impropriety. However, out of an abundance of caution, I have asked for assurance from the Director-General of Health", Hughes said in a letter to National.

"The information reviewed by my team does not suggest there are any wider areas of concern for me to look into."

National last month wrote to Hughes asking him to investigate the roughly $600,000 worth of contracts awarded to Tātou over the past two years.

That includes at least $250,000 from the Ministry of Health, while Henare was associate minister of health.

Until earlier this year, Henare's partner Skye Kimura was chief executive of Tātou. Last month, she told RNZ she had made the "personal choice" to leave the company.

She told RNZ she had "always declared" her relationship with Henare to the ministry.

A ministry spokesperson, however, last month told RNZ that Tātou did not declare any conflict of interest when its services were engaged.

"There is a standard clause in the ministry's contracts that requires contracted parties to declare any conflicts of interest - potential or perceived.

"No conflict was raised."

The spokesperson last month told RNZ the ministry was confident Kimura's relationship with Henare had "no bearing" on the contract decisions.

"Overall, the ministry is satisfied that we followed the necessary rules and policies relating to contracts."

In response to further questions from RNZ on Friday, the spokesperson said the ministry would comment in more detail once the review had concluded.

Henare disclosed his partner's business interests to the Cabinet Office in 2018 and agreed not to be involved in any decisions regarding contracts with her agency.

Public Service Commission guidelines for managing conflicts - issued to agencies in March - state the importance of considering contractors' relationships with senior leaders and ministers.

"If a conflict of interest is identified that relates to a minister, the matter should be escalated to, and managed by, the agency chief executive in a timely way," the guidance states.

National's public service spokesperson Simeon Brown told RNZ he was pleased the Health Ministry was looking into its processes to ensure they were tight.

"There's a perception of a conflict. The conflict of interest wasn't declared.

"It wasn't taken through the appropriate process to ensure it was signed off by the chief executive, and those rules are clear."

Brown said National's preference remained for Hughes to take a "wider look" and he would be replying to make that clear.