There's an old saying in politics – that explaining is losing. This seems to apply to the saga of the new BMWs. It does appear that no minister was told of this until after the contract was signed, and even that the decision saved money, but explaining this means that the story stays alive for another day. At this stage one is in a lose/lose situation. If you explain you lose, and if you don't explain you lose.
The Government isn't able to release the contract that Labour signed in 2008, but what they have been able to say is:
DIA had advised that the cost savings from a three-year replacement versus a five-year replacement, are considerable.
“Based on a fleet of 35 cars, if the existing fleet is kept for five years, the total cost of ownership over the five years would be $4,697,175. If we keep the cycle of replacing every 3 years, the total cost over five years of the existing fleet held for three years plus two years of the new fleet, would be $2,612,365. So, the savings over five years would be $2,084,810 .”
So the contract signed by Labour in 2008 had an option for a renewal in 2011. And while it was not compulsory to renew in 2011, it would cost you more over the long term if you did not renew. This is presumably why DIA decided to renew. Purely on fiscal grounds, it saves money. But they over-looked the political aspect which I'll come to.
Next we have the issue of whether DIA were entitled to sign off the replacement cars without ministerial authority or even notification. The delegation to the Chief Executive of Internal Affairs is for capital expenditure of up to $15, so he was legally entitled to renew the fleet without ministerial approval.
However I beleive DIA made a very bad mistake by not seeking at least an opinion from their Minister or Ministers. The reason they should have done so is because the Ministers are seen to be the recepients of the benefits of having a new fleet. This should absolutely have been notified under the no surprises policy. I hope and trust DIA have been left under no misunderstanding that in future this should occur.
It is possible of course that DIA made a deliberate decision not to tell Ministers. They possibly concluded (correctly) that if they had told Ministers in advance, the Ministers would try and delay the upgrade. And if it really was cheaper to upgrade in 2011, then DIA could well have an incentive to sign the deal before telling Ministers, in case the Ministers were not happy.
trevor mallard is going on about how Ministers should have known in advance because there was a reference made to it in a select committee report. That's absurd – Mallard knows that Ministers don't read select committee reports – hell they have several boxes of reading every night as it is.
After the contract was signed, the Internal Affairs Minister was told, and he in turn told the Finance Minister. While the contract was already signed, if I had been one of thise Ministers my first reaction would have been to ask can the contract be rescinded, and if so how much would it cost. The answer might have been that it was too late, but the Government would have possibly have had that as an option if they had moved quickly. It's easier to cancel a contract a week after it is signed compared to three months later.
The other fair criticism of the Government is its response to the story. They were effectively given a hospital pass on this issue, but having had knowledge of the purchases before the story broke, they should have been ready with a response (stating the savings, the fact Labour signed the contract, the fact they were only told afterwards) to go out within minutes of the story breaking.
Instead the facts have only come out over a period of three to four days, ensuring it stays in the news for 3 to 4 days. So while there was always going to be some damage from a hospital pass, the damage has been compounded a bit by the way the story has been kept alive.