Thursday, May 30, 2024

Auditor-General warns against perception of political influence

Auditor-General, John Ryan says language used in a letter sent only to Labour MPs from Transport Minister, Michael Wood, about a new $350 million funding programme risked a perception that projects might be considered outside of the published application process, or that the application process could be open to influence.

Mr Ryan today published a response to National Party MP, Simeon Brown (pictured), who wrote to the Auditor-General in December last year with concerns about the way funding allocations were determined for the Transport Choices Package.

In the June 2022 letter to MPs, Minister Wood stated, “If you have any queries about the Transport Choices Package or would like to bring potential projects in your area to my attention, please contact my office”.

Mr Brown wrote to the Auditor-General concerned that the process for the Package had not been transparent and had been potentially politicised to benefit Labour Party MPs.

Transport Minister Michael Wood.

“We inquired into the process for allocating this funding. Based on our work, we have not seen anything to suggest that the process has been politicised to the benefit of one particular political party, or that other considerations have outweighed the merits of proposals for funding,” Mr Ryan said today.

He said all councils were made aware of the Package and given an opportunity to propose projects for funding.

“We have not seen any evidence that projects were received by Waka Kotahi directly from any MPs or outside the application process. Analysis about which projects should receive funding was done by officials at Waka Kotahi.”

However, he said, the language used in the letter from the Minister of Transport to Labour Party MPs about the Package risked a perception that the application process might not be fair or transparent.

“In my view, that language risked a perception that projects might be considered outside of the published application process, or that the application process might not be fair or transparent and could be open to influence.”

“As outlined, we have not seen any evidence of that in relation to this scheme. However, I encourage all ministers in a similar situation to act cautiously and in a manner that promotes the public’s trust in the integrity of New Zealand’s systems of government.”

The Auditor-General said his office found nothing to suggest that the funding selection process had been politicised to the benefit of one particular political party, or that other considerations have outweighed the merits of proposals for funding.

“Although Ministers have agreed to the in-principle list of projects, and are expected to endorse the final list of projects and funding, the analysis of which proposals will be funded has been done by Waka Kotahi,” he said.

“We have also not seen any evidence to suggest that funding has been directed to particular electorates. All councils were made aware of the funding and given an opportunity to put forward projects and work with Waka Kotahi to see whether those projects qualified for funding.

“We remain interested in the outcome of the final assessment of projects and confirmation of which projects will receive funding,” Mr Ryan said.

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