Time to extend the OIA!

May 26th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters is calling for an inquiry into finances at a $30 million-a-year South Auckland Maori disability support services trust, claiming evidence of hundreds of thousands of dollars in “irregular payments” that have “crippled” the organisation.

Te Roopu Taurima O Manukau Trust has income of $30.6 million a year, 500 staff and provides services to 243 people.

But Mr Peters said he’d received information alleging the trust was insolvent and had “problems related to improper processes, questionable payments, doctored invoices and the employment of a former Customs officer earlier jailed for smuggling methamphetamine”.

He said about $250,000 had been paid to two consultancy firms for financial and human resources advice “but neither firm appears to have obvious qualifications in these areas”.

“It is clear there are serious financial irregularities, like a bakery company being paid $2000 to rewire a clothesline and a payment to another company for security systems that did not exist.”

Now as the allegations are from Winston there’s a 50/50 chance they are made up, or that they have substance. They’ll come out in time.

On the wider issue, the Taxpayers’ Union has said:

“Unlike government agencies, these groups are not required to comply with the Official Information Act. This means that too often taxpayer money disappears into a void.”

“Too often there is little transparency and accountability when taxpayer money and trusts come together. The only opportunity to see even a fraction of what really goes on is when someone leaks documents, as appears to be the case here.”

“We are only going to see these kinds of accusations, time and time again. We call on the Government to commit to reform of the Official Information Act so that it covers these sorts of groups.” 

Not surprisingly, I support this.

There are scores of NGOs out there that are almost entirely Government funded, yet they do not have the same transparency obligations as crown agencies. This allows millions of dollars to be spent with limited transparency.

What I would propose is a law that any organisation that is (say) over 90% funded by taxpayers should come under the Official Information Act.

This would actually improve those organisations, as knowing that their expenditure could be ’s, would incentivise them to spend taxpayer money more responsibly.

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43 Responses to “Time to extend the OIA!”

  1. davidp (3,570 comments) says:

    I’d like to submit an OIA request for the NZ First Party to find out what happened to the $158k worth of taxpayer money they misappropriated and stole. NZ First has “problems related to improper processes, questionable payments, doctored invoices and the employment of” one of the most bewildered and incoherent old men in NZ.

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  2. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    I wonder whether there are other accountability mechanisms that might be employed. Perhaps a general requirement to publish any contract for a sum over a specified amount (maybe $1 million) and for the audited accounts of providers to be published also.

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  3. jp_1983 (201 comments) says:

    How about we remove Government funding from those quangos, NGO’s etc… then they can spend all the money how they want. Because they will be funding the organisation themselves.

    The thing I don’t get is we pay money to these groups to essentially oppose what the government does.
    *Does not compute*

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  4. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    Most of the money to third sector organisations is to actually deliver services. We need mechanisms to provide public accountability for such spending.

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  5. Harriet (4,726 comments) says:

    “…..Te Roopu Taurima O Manukau Trust has income of $30.6 million a year, 500 staff and provides services to 243 people….”

    SOoooooooooooooo 243 people recieve the benefit of over 30 million dollars?

    Winnie is onto something here as 243 kiwis who work in regular jobs wouldn’t recieve that in pay – in 5yrs.

    But the National socialists will tell us that it is for 743 people and not for the benefit of just 243.

    National will not touch the 47% of public service staff that Hulun employed.

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  6. unaha-closp (1,155 comments) says:

    This would actually improve those organisations, as knowing that their expenditure could be OIA’s, would incentivise them to spend taxpayer money more responsibly.

    They’ll be “responsibly” spending a shipload of money on this new regulatory compliance for one thing.

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  7. gump (1,604 comments) says:

    @Harriet

    “SOoooooooooooooo 243 people recieve the benefit of over 30 million dollars?”

    ————————-

    It’s a disability trust. The money is used to provide specialised staff and services to severely disabled clients.

    The disabled clients aren’t receiving $30 million in cash.

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  8. Harriet (4,726 comments) says:

    edit: my mistake – they’re not public service staff. But still – 243 people recieve the benefits of over 30mil? That is a joke.

    “…….The disabled clients aren’t receiving $30 million in cash…..”

    I know that – but they are the sole purpose of that 30 mil this year!

    It doesn’t compute.

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  9. anticorruptionnz (210 comments) says:

    I couldn’t agree more , the RNZSPCA is a law enforcement authority yet there is no transparency . they are a private organization, same with AWINZ it didn’t even exist. If you contract to government and deliver public services you are by definition performing a public function and we have the right to information . If you dont like it.. dont contract to Government or councils.

    what we also need is accountability for the money dished out , those who do the auditing often dont know which way is up . I dealt with a youth center once the ” organization ” was one woman who hired and fired the executive at will, she had a $50,000 car and paid herself a 60,000 wage. she used the names of the kids in the kapa haka group to get the ” at risk ” kids grant

    when I went to the dept of labour I wasn’t welcome oops is showed them up for being slack so they shot the messenger and it carried on.

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  10. anticorruptionnz (210 comments) says:

    Harriet

    there are probably 10 people at the top who get the lion share, the staff get paid handsomely and then there is the need for coffee machines flash cars and state of the art technology.

    the 243 disabled people wont be the ones to disproportionately benefit from this.

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  11. Unity (473 comments) says:

    I too absolutely agree that there needs to be the utmost transparency all the way. However, as these groups constantly ‘mis-manage’ money with it seemingly going into a great big abyss, I really wonder why we keep on funding them. One by one the same cry is heard about the disappearance of great sums of money with nothing to show for it. Knock it on the head. It’s not achieving anything apart from angst, to put it mildly.

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  12. georgebolwing (733 comments) says:

    DPF: I don’t think you have thought this through at all.

    This is heading down the very dangerous line of applying Government standards to firms who contract with the Government. If you go down this route, then you greatly reduce the efficiency benefits from outsourcing and you might as well just bring things back into departmental form.

    Should Westpac be subject to the OIA because it is the Crown’s banker?

    Should Vodafone be required to company with the State Sector Act because it sells phone services to Government departments?

    If there is to be public accountability, it should be on the Crown side of the contract, not the private side.

    [DPF: I am suggesting it applies only to organisations that are basically entirely taxpayer funded, and are doing work on behalf of the Government - rather than merely providing a service to it such as phones.]

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  13. Nick R (502 comments) says:

    I think this is a poor call by the Taxpayer’s Union. Work is usually contracted out to private suppliers because it is cheaper or better than having it done by a Government Department. So someone ought to be asking what it would cost if all private sector suppliers are suddenly treated as if they are Government Departments and required to account publicly for everything they do and spend. That’s a crapload of bureaucracy to impose on the private sector, which the taxpayer will ultimately end up having to pay for. Is that what the Taxpayer’s Union wants?

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  14. unaha-closp (1,155 comments) says:

    Don’t worry about Vodafone or Westpac they only want this regulation to apply to small organisations.

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  15. dime (9,787 comments) says:

    starting to think i should set up some NGO. just rape the tax payer. doesnt seem that hard.

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  16. Vader (8 comments) says:

    Sounds like a slippery slope, I can imagine the lefties paralysing Charter Schools with OIA requests. Responsibility and any OIA should be on funding department to demonstrate appropriate oversight.

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  17. anticorruptionnz (210 comments) says:

    all you need is an unincorporated trust,, apply for anything in the name of the trust and do all the business yourself. pay the staff.. that is you your missus and kids , buy new technology and just make certain that you tick the boxes on the audit report .

    No one checks ( if they had they wouldn’t have contracted to an unincorporated entity in the first place )and if they catch you out they will simply seek compliance then if things go wrong they wont be able to sue any one because the trust is unincorporated and hey you got no deed oops who were the trustees again ?. never mind too bad so sad I am sure they will write that one off too .

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  18. Harriet (4,726 comments) says:

    “……Harriet

    there are probably 10 people at the top who get the lion share, the staff get paid handsomely and then there is the need for coffee machines flash cars and state of the art technology.

    the 243 disabled people wont be the ones to disproportionately benefit from this……”

    So how on earth did they talk National into giving them over 30million?

    That’s the question that needs to be answered!

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  19. bringbackdemocracy (418 comments) says:

    Who purchased Huka Lodge????

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  20. Harriet (4,726 comments) says:

    “……If there is to be public accountability, it should be on the Crown side of the contract, not the private side….”

    Exactly my point – how does National get talked into giving away 30 million that is then mostly wasted?

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  21. RRM (9,745 comments) says:

    Now as the allegations are from Winston there’s a 50/50 chance they are made up, or that they have substance. They’ll come out in time.

    Surely it is not true.

    These govt funded do-gooder Maori ™ organisations are NEVER vehicles for thieves to line their pockets with other people’s money!!!

    No, nothing like that has ever, or will ever happen!!

    Chur…

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  22. Bill Courtney (161 comments) says:

    DPF: “What I would propose is a law that any organisation that is (say) over 90% funded by taxpayers should come under the Official Information Act.”

    Brilliant!! Farrar finally agrees that charter schools should be subject to the OIA.

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  23. itstricky (1,757 comments) says:

    On the wider issue, the Taxpayers’ Union has said:

    “Unlike government agencies, these groups are not required to comply with the Official Information Act. This means that too often taxpayer money disappears into a void.”

    DPF – do you, sorry The TPU mean like charter schools? Or was that not what you were referring to?

    [DPF: I'm not proposing any exceptions and have in the past said I support charter schools having the same transparency as state schools]

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  24. itstricky (1,757 comments) says:

    Bill ~ SNAP!

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  25. RRM (9,745 comments) says:

    $30.6 million / 243 people “supported” = $126,000 each. That’s two full-time salaries to look after each one. Doesn’t seem right.

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  26. Colville (2,235 comments) says:

    Whineston is just such a cnut. Its tiresome getting angry about the crap he spouts.

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  27. radvad (730 comments) says:

    The scary part……500 employees. Sheesh.

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  28. Colville (2,235 comments) says:

    I think if a few here took the time to cost this out it wont look so silly.
    243 cripples/bedridden?
    300/400/500 care givers? full time live in etc etc
    managers, has to be 50 or so? cars, phones etc etc
    office net holidays insurance etc etc.

    it all ads up.

    Christ you cant run a plumbers labourer for less than $100K/yr now (all up not just wages before you get enraged)

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  29. Viking2 (11,334 comments) says:

    Colville (1,848 comments) says:
    May 26th, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    I think if a few here took the time to cost this out it wont look so silly.
    243 cripples/bedridden?
    300/400/500 care givers? full time live in etc etc
    managers, has to be 50 or so? cars, phones etc etc
    office net holidays insurance etc etc.

    it all ads up.

    Christ you cant run a plumbers labourer for less than $100K/yr now (all up not just wages before you get enraged)
    ———————-
    Colville, while I think you are right you picked the wrong trade. Plumbers make more than most, always have. The appropriate example might be a caregiver at 50K.

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  30. doggone7 (769 comments) says:

    A veritable torrent of suggestions, nay demands, that OIA obligations be extended!

    To charter schools? Don’t be silly.

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  31. Surely Knott (9 comments) says:

    Yes. Yes. Yes. We definitely need transparency on Trusts that are receiving government money. Why can’t our local government and trusts just have a xero account so any member of the public can log in as viewers and see where the money goes. Would save on the whole information request thing.

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  32. dime (9,787 comments) says:

    id be happy to see OIA extended to charter schools. once they have been given some time to be up and running.

    id also expect the scum teachers and their unions to show some restraint and not ping them with 500 requests a day about shit. like the tantrum throwing little aholes that they are. the sort of people they would never tolerate in their own classrooms

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  33. doggone7 (769 comments) says:

    Maybe dime you could give us the benefit of your fertile imagination and say what sort of OIA requests would be likely to be forthcoming from the scum tantrum throwing little ahole teachers about “shit”.

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  34. scrubone (3,090 comments) says:

    These organisations have to be accountable to the government, the government is accountable to us.

    There’s absolutely no need to extend the OIA. What someone should do is do an OIA to find out how much accountability the government has asked for.

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  35. peterwn (3,233 comments) says:

    anticorruptionnz – Assuming you have your unincorporated trust up and running, the trust deed has dropped behind the bookcase and the named trustees are unknown – the trustees would be deemed to be the persons who operate the bank account – ie sign the cheques. A court would call them ‘constructive trustees’.

    Nowadays to open such a trust account, the bank would want to sight the trust deed and would want photo ID and evidence of addresses of those who will operate the account.

    A government agency dishing out funds nowadays would hopefully want to do it via a legally recognised entity – for example a charitable trust board or incorporated society also registered with the Charities section of Internal Affairs or possibly a registered company.

    This proposal would also make the Problem Gambling Foundation subject to the OIA – listen to the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the ex left wing politicians and hangers on who run it.

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  36. Fentex (912 comments) says:

    There are scores of NGOs out there that are almost entirely Government funded, yet they do not have the same transparency obligations as crown agencies. This allows millions of dollars to be spent with limited transparency.

    What I would propose is a law that any organisation that is (say) over 90% funded by taxpayers should come under the Official Information Act.

    Does that include organisations doing any kind work on the government’s behalf, such as Serco running prisons?

    The “over 90% funded by taxpayers” criteria world exclude companies such as large corporates like Serco with other business, but what’s the moral difference between one company spending millions on behalf of the taxpayer and another when they just happen to also do something else?

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  37. freethinker (688 comments) says:

    RRM (9,134 comments) says:
    May 26th, 2014 at 6:10 pm
    The benefit for each beneficiary is much less as the 500 staff are paid so the main beneficiaries of the trust appear to be the stafff.

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  38. Bill Courtney (161 comments) says:

    [DPF: I'm not proposing any exceptions and have in the past said I support charter schools having the same transparency as state schools]

    So, that includes parent-elected Boards of Trustees, that hold open meetings and maintain open records? All of which are excluded from how NZ charter schools operate?

    One of the main points that charter schools in the USA fight most vigorously, is to maintain the position that they are private organisations that are not subject to the same level of public scrutiny that public schools are.

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  39. ChardonnayGuy (1,194 comments) says:

    So how would this work in practice, David? The Charities Act certainly looks robust enough and the Charities Registration Board has been criticised in the New Zealand Law Journal for its purported overuse of deregistration. However, I certainly agree with your points about good governance, fiscal accountability and transparency and other attributes of proper, responsible charities. I’m veep of one who sends away our financial transaction records to be regularly audited. If one is in receipt of public funds (or private funds, for that matter), then one must be accountable in this context. Good to see you’d apply it to charter schools as well.

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  40. unaha-closp (1,155 comments) says:

    The “over 90% funded by taxpayers” criteria world exclude companies such as large corporates like Serco with other business, but what’s the moral difference between one company spending millions on behalf of the taxpayer and another when they just happen to also do something else?

    When DPF posted that small businesses did much worse under Labour, well obviously that is not good enough and National needs to take steps to catch up.

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  41. G152 (260 comments) says:

    Whoa. This is a Whinebox Winnie exposure here.
    And we all know just how ‘gone by Friday’ that means

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  42. itstricky (1,757 comments) says:

    [DPF: I'm not proposing any exceptions and have in the past said I support charter schools having the same transparency as state schools]

    Good news. Re-reading some of your statements in this post, such as:

    This allows millions of dollars to be spent with limited transparency.

    Would you care to speculate why The Government made charter schools not subject to the OIA from the outset? Doesn’t make sense, does it?

    [DPF: Probably because during their startup phase, opponents would bury them under the OIA with 1000s of OIA requests to try and force them under. Hopefully in a few years, they'll include them along with other taxpayer funded entities]

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  43. itstricky (1,757 comments) says:

    So you’re saying g that they can spend millions without transparency because they -might- get flooded with requests? Surely if you were really worried about that or just wanted to limit the number of requests there would be ways of controlling it without just applying a blanket. Imagine all the other scenarios where unpopular policy is introduced – do we see blanket rule changes for them?

    Does the TPU have any exceptions in their statements above for NGOs that might be unpopular, just in case someone wants to bury them under a pile of paperwork?

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