Editorials on “gentlemen’s agreement”

The Press editorial:

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull is defending the agreement under which former Dunedin North MP Pete Hodgson was paid by Cull’s council to lobby the Government to retain the core functions of AgResearch at Invermay. Hodgson was paid $3400 for duties which included advocating on the council’s behalf, contributing to a letter to Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce and writing a 10-page report for the board of AgResearch.

The council says that Cull was its main point of contact with Hodgson, but it could not locate a single email, contract or any other document relating to the agreement. Cull said: “I could describe it as a gentleman’s way of doing business in the south.” …

In matters involving public money, it is absolutely essential that the principles of transparency and accountability are upheld. There are sometimes good commercial reasons for withholding some information, but they don’t apply here. Cull has done Dunedin ratepayers a disservice with this handshake deal and his cavalier attempt to explain it.

Also an editorial in the Southland Times:

Could you smell the port and stale cigar smoke on Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull’s breath as he defended the “gentleman’s agreement” under which his council paid former MP Pete Hodgson for lobbying?

Mr Hodgson was paid $3400 for his work helping the council advocate that Invermay retain its core Ag Research functions. He was plausibly the best person for the job. But it was done on a handshake with nary a contract – and all that tedious accountability that goes with it – in sight. …

Mr Hodgson says the fact that nothing was written up “would probably reflect their trust in me”.

As far as the public is concerned, what this should reflect is the untrustworthiness of all involved.

A council, a mayor and a former minister of the Crown should collectively and individually know full well that this was dodgy and then some.

The Taxpayers’ Union, while acknowledging that it isn’t an eye-watering amount, detects that the council isn’t applying the most basic internal controls.

It is the principle, not the amount. But when it involves public money with one politician awarding it to another politician, you need to be absolutely transparent.

The good news is that while there was no contract, there was at least an invoice. The Taxpayers Union is pleased with this, but asking the question who then authorised the payment. The Mayor keeps insisting it had nothing much to do with him, while the Council says he was the primary point of contact. So who signed it off?

The ODT reports:

Chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose said yesterday invoices should have been included in the OIA response, but the staff member writing the response ”was simply answering the question ‘was there a contract?’ and the answer seems to have been no”.

It was also a ”mistake” not to write a contract for Mr Hodgson’s services, she said.

”It appears that there have been more than one of these mistakes and it appears that there is a small number of managers who were not aware [of council policy].”

The council did not use ”gentlemen’s agreements” and had reiterated to staff all employment transactions, no matter how small, should be covered by contracts.

Good to see.

As readers will know, I helped found the Taxpayers’ Union. On a modest budget and limited resources we’ve already made a lot of impact with both local and central government in attacking wasteful or sloppy spending, including the $19 million spent by ACC which by their own accounting was at best returning 14 cents in the dollar.  You can join the union for just $5, subscribe to newsletters for free, and/or donate to help keep us going. The board members are all volunteers. As we head into election year expect more of a focus not just on wasteful spending, but making the case for taxes to be reduced as the crown accounts head back into surplus.

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