The Manukau cover up?

Jonathan Marshall at the SST reports:

Council officials working for Manakau mayor Len Brown approached a restaurant asking its staff to “make up” a dinner receipt that excluded details of beer and wine purchased during a $810 dinner. …

On Friday, a bundle of receipts was sent by the council’s chief executive, Leigh Auton. The majority of receipts were eftpos ones rather than tax invoices showing exactly what was purchased.

Council regulations require a tax invoice to be submitted for every transaction, especially for spends of more than $50.

One of the tax invoices provided to the Star-Times was for an $810 dinner at Manurewa’s Volare Restaurant on a Sunday evening in September 2009. The only details of the visit on the invoice are “dinner for mayor Len Brown, includes food and beverage”.

The tax invoice is different from the usual invoices given to diners at the South Auckland eatery.

The Star-Times has learned that council officials contacted the restaurant last week – 36 weeks after the visit – and asked them to produce a new receipt and fax it to council headquarters. Volare owner Daniel Nakhle yesterday confirmed “a new receipt was requested” just a few days ago.

This verges on fraud (unless the original receipt had been lost), and may be a breach of the Official Information Act. If this is correct, it is disgraceful that Manukau City Council staff believe it is their job to request suppliers to manufacture new invoices that hide the details of the spending.

If you worked in the private sector, and it turned out you had been going back to restaurants and asking them for new receipts/invoices which are less embarrassing to you, you’d probably be sacked by your boss.

If Council staff were ringing up restaurants to ask for new invoices that would be less embarrassing to the Mayor, it would signify the naked politisation of the Council staff, presuambly authorised by the CEO. And one would have to ask at whose request was any request made?

If media request credit card details under the Official Information Act, the obligation is to hand over any information you have that is legally obtainable.

The last thing public sector staff should be doing is ringing up restaurants and asking them to manufacture new invoices, so they don’t have to hand over the receipts they do have. The Ombudsman should be very concerned about this, and may even want to investigate.

The revelation comes as official documents show it took Brown 437 days to repay his council for a family Christmas ham he bought from a butcher.

The Sunday Star-Times revealed last week that Brown spent $10,864.98 in the past 12 months on council plastic. It has since emerged he racked up $16,977.22 since winning the mayoralty in 2007. The Star-Times requested copies of each receipt for each transaction since Brown was elected mayor.

On Friday, a bundle of receipts was sent by the council’s chief executive, Leigh Auton. The majority of receipts were eftpos ones rather than tax invoices showing exactly what was purchased.

Three scenarios come to mind here, for what Manukau City Council have done:

  1. MCC has the full tax receipts showing details of how much alcohol was consumed, and asked restaurants to manufacture new receipts leaving off this detail, so they could hide the real receipts from disclosure under the OIA.
  2. MCC never received the full tax receipts from the Mayor, in breach of Council policy.
  3. MCC were given the full tax receipts by the Mayor, but despite being legally required to keep them for seven years have lost or destroyed them.

To some degree all three scenarios reflect very badly on those involved.

The questions I would be asking are:

  1. Does MCC have the full tax receipts still, and if not did they ever have them?
  2. Who made the decision to ring up restaurants to ask for new invoices/receipts?
  3. At whose request was the decision made?

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