Fraudster Joanne Harrison tried arranging a night-time “clandestine rendezvous” in her Ministry of Transport office while she was under investigation.
The ministry has also confirmed there were multiple concerns raised about Harrison long before she fled the country last year, in the wake of her $725,000 fraud.
NZ First leader Winston Peters has now called for Harrison’s former ministry boss Martin Matthews – who is currently the auditor-general, to stand down. Other Opposition MPs have also raised concerns.
I hate to say it, but Winston may have a point.
I don’t think you can blame Matthews because fraud happened in his department per se. No agency can be fraud proof. And from all accounts he did the right thing once it was confirmed she was a fraudster,
But the issue is whether warning signals were ignored and good systems were in place, so she would have been detected earlier. And the signs are that they were not. And this is not a good look for someone who is now the Auditor-General.
Matthews, who is overseas, said last night he stood by previous assertions that he had handled the saga decisively, and investigated it thoroughly.
He did. But the issue is whether it should have been detected earlier. Here’s the stuff I’m concerned about:
- Harrison was able to authorise payments to entities and no internal checks made about services provided
- Concerns about the contracts were raised two years earlier but not acted on
- Staff concerns over her recommending her husband for a role were not followed up properly
- She hired a friend as a staffer who got paid for 10 months and it seems never turned up to the office
- She had been investigated for fraud in Australia and the Australian Federal Police contacted the Ministry in 2014 about her and Matthews just accepted her word that the matter did not directly relate to her
- In 2013 staff raised concerns that she gave out work without contracts
Again Matthews acted properly and well once they were sure she was a fraudster. But it looks like there were multiple missed opportunities to detect her fraud at an earlier stage. If an overseas police department contact you about a manager, you should not just take their word for it that they have done nothing wrong.
If Matthews was simply the CEO of another government agency, I would say this one issue should not blot his record. But the role of Auditor-General is different. This is about systems and checks and robust process. And it is clear that this did not happen on his watch at Transport.