Red Alert

Archive for the ‘perks’ Category

I’m here to help

Posted by on January 31st, 2012

Not sure what all the SoE Treaty Clause fuss is about.

Easily solved.

Indemnify the companies. Essentially what the act does now. Risk unchanged and stays with the crown.

If the Maori Party settle for less they are stupid.

Better still of course, abandon the sell down.

McCully embarrassed by tuppawaka TVNZ banned

Posted by on October 13th, 2011

Can someone explain why McCully (Minister of RWC) can toss $2m towards the tuppawaka which is built on public land but support a ban on TVNZ filming the opening event.

Then there are questions of value for money, priorities etc.

Of troughs and trotters……

Posted by on June 24th, 2011

On Wednesday evening, the night before examining Murray McCully over the MFAT estimates at select committee, I received the answers to my raft of questions. There is one Annex of which people should avail themselves. It is the spreadsheet of consultants and contractors and is accessible here. Have a look and see for yourself. Page 39 for starters, but there is plenty of interesting reading there.

One name stood out for me – Charles Finny, formerly of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, now of Saunders Unsworth. Paid $54,135 for work done between 1 November and 24 December 2010. Nice pay rate for 2 months’ work! I’m sure he wouldn’t have had any sick days – oh, that’s right, he’s a bloke. No uterus, no sick days.

Charles Finny’s contract was not put out for tender. Why not? At a rate of $27,000 a month, you’d think that might be tendered. McCully wasn’t aware of the details, he said, but knew Finny had the requisite skills.  There are lots more questions to ask here – like, at what threshold does a requirement to tender kick in, etc., etc. McCully had given another gift to one of his mates.

Add that to: $75k contract to former Nat MP, Mark Blumsky for development work in Niue (requisite skills – the man used to be a shoe salesman?); current Nat MP Allan Peachey being made  Special Envoy with the permission of the PM no less, to go round the Pacific and talk about education (is that what he was elected by the good people of Tamaki to do?); current Nat MP John Hayes, appointed to chair a committee which disburses money to aid NGOs (a committee he might have to interrogate as Chair of the Foreign Affairs select committee?).

These men might all be good blokes, but how would anyone know? They haven’t been subjected to any form of competition. I thought the Nats liked competition. Nope? They just like extra perks and income. This is taxpayers’ money, not McCully’s personal slush fund.

Key fudged answers on Premier House

Posted by on May 21st, 2011

There is a pattern in the way John Key and his office deal with revelations about how they are spending taxpayers money on themselves while telling everyone else they need to stomach cutbacks. When it was first revealed that John Key had splashed out on new carpet and painting for his prime ministerial residence, the initial reaction of his office was to deny all knowledge.

Then they reveal that they did know about it, defend it saying it’s no big deal, and accuse those answering questions of muck-raking or focusing on the small stuff. But if you keep asking questions, it usually turns out that they knew exactly what was going on and in fact they were up to their eyeballs in it.

Answers that have just come back to written parliamentary questions reveal that not only did Key know about the painting of Premier House, he made them change the proposed colour scheme.

A pattern is also emerging that shows how sloppy this government are when it comes to the way they spend money on themselves. Key stated in his most recent answers that the decision to re-carpet Premier House was made in late-2009. If that’s the case, Key should have included it in Estimates information provided to the Select Committee following the Budget. He didn’t.

At best that’s sloppy management on Key’s part (he signs off the answers to the Select Committee), at worst it suggests they’re deliberately trying to fudge the amount they spend on themselves. Either way it’s pretty clear that Key’s “aggressive” line-by-line review of government spending doesn’t apply to his own spending. There’s a word for that.

It was a similar situation with the BMWs. First Key claimed he hadn’t been told, then it turned out his Chief of Staff was fully briefed and two of his Ministers had signed the deal off. A bit odd that Key would take an active interest in something as small as a new paint job for Premier House but not know about a multi-million dollar car purchase. And let’s not forget that Bill English only paid back the housing allowance because he got found out.

The BMWs: Some unanswered questions

Posted by on May 14th, 2011

Last week I asked John Key a few questions in Parliament regarding a $50,000 donation the National Party received from an Auckland BMW dealer just 2 days after his Chief of Staff met with VIP transport officials to discuss the upgrade of their limo fleet. He didn’t like the questions very much, so rather than provide any answers, he resorted to attacking me instead. Very prime ministerial…

So here are a few of the questions that remain unanswered:

  • Did John Key know about the $50,000 donation when his Chief of Staff met with the VIP transport officials?
  • Does John Key think it was wise to speak at a fundraiser organised by BMW dealer Team McMillan while his officials were in the process of signing-off the BMW fleet replacement, particularly given Mr McMillan has publicly stated he wants to be involved in selling the old ones?
  • What was the actual date of the Team McMillan fundraiser?
  • Who else attended the Team McMillan fundraiser? Was anybody from BMW NZ, who are supplying the new cars, in attendance?
  • Who will be responsible for disposing of the old BMWs? Will it be BMW NZ, or will the Department be responsible?
  • Did John Key discuss the VIP fleet at the fundraiser with anyone, if so, who?
  • Have any of the original BMW fleet been sold yet, if so, who to?
  • Why does John Key keep claiming the deal for the new BMWs was Labour’s, when his own officials admit there was no obligation to take up the renewal option and they could have stuck with the old ones without any penalty?
  • What did his officials discuss with his Chief of Staff at the 28 July 2010 meeting? Why didn’t his Chief of Staff brief him on it?
  • Why does John Key keep claiming his government didn’t know about it when both Nathan Guy and Bill English signed it off, his Chief of Staff clearly knew about it, and he himself signed at least 4 documents that referred to it?

I think these are all legitimate questions and John Key should man-up and provide a few answers. Unfortunately he has a history of being slippery with the facts until he is caught. Do you remember how the story of his Tranz Rail shares changed back in 2008? He didn’t admit to the extent of the holding until after he knew TVNZ knew how many he really had. In fact, he lied first and told the truth only after the truth was told for him.

Walking the talk

Posted by on May 8th, 2011

John Key and Bill English are telling Kiwis that they have to get by without ‘nice to haves’ as we deal with the mess they are making of the economy. So are they walking the talk themselves? Seems not…

After upgrading the BMW fleet, beefing up their personal security, and boosting their own pay packets with a new tax-free accommodation allowance, we now learn that Key has just spent $215,000 repainting Premier House, the official Prime Ministerial residence.

That’s a heck of a lot of money and one can only assume it must be a pretty gold-plated paint job. It’s more than some people can afford to spend buying their entire house.

Answers to written Parliamentary questions have revealed that National has just spent $187,996.93 repainting the outside of the Prime Ministerial residence and another $30,023.83 painting the fence and sprucing up the garden.

I simply don’t buy John Key’s argument that it wasn’t his decision, he’s the responsible minister, the buck stops with him, as it did with the BMWs and the security budget blow-out. It’s about time Key manned-up and starting taking a bit of responsibility.

Apparently blokes need more security

Posted by on May 5th, 2011

TVNZ reported this evening that John Key’s jaunts to his holiday home in Hawaii are costing the taxpayer even more than we thought, with the Diplomatic Protection Service picking up an extra $30,000 bill for his summer holiday. The overall budget for the DPS has blown out by more than $800,000 a year.

Now I think it’s good that Kiwi PMs have protection, but does anyone seriously think he needs to take a bunch of security guards with him when he goes on holiday at his exclusive, compounded holiday home in Hawaii? Helen Clark almost never took DPS with her when she was on personal travel overseas. Michael Cullen often refused DPS protection when he was acting PM.

Since John Key became PM there has clearly been a big increase in the number of DPS hanging around with the PM. I somehow doubt that the threats to the PM’s life have massively increased since the blokes have been back in charge.

Of course, it could be that the massive $800k budget blow-out is explained by the NZ Herald article this morning:

Prime Minister John Key has revealed he is not immune from his boot camp mania … his personal guards have set up a personalised boot camp for him … He said his Diplomatic Protection Squad personnel sometimes changed his early morning runs to something more challenging – including carrying full jerry cans “if they’re trying to make things difficult.”

Presumably $800k for Key’s own ‘personal trainers’ aren’t one of the ‘nice to haves’ Key and English say we’re all going to have to live without? But then again, so far it seems it’s everyone else that’s going to have to learn to live with less, not the ministers themselves…

Taxpayer support for Brash?

Posted by on April 29th, 2011

It wasn’t so much a hostile takeover as a buy-out. Don Brash threatened to shut off the money to ACT unless they made him their Leader, in much the same way he threatened to shut off the money to National unless they did the same eight years ago. So now he’ll be leading ACT from outside Parliament until the election in November, when he supposes he’ll be back in Parliament.

All of this begs the question of how ACT will manage without a Leader in Parliament? Over the road the penguin is jumping up and down about Hone Harawira’s taxpayer-funded travel, but at least Hone is a duly elected MP. Will any taxpayer resources go into supporting Don Brash, the non-MP ACT party Leader? Will he have access to their Research Unit and media team? Will any of ACT’s taxpayer funded promotional material have the Don’s mug on them? Will any of their parliamentary staff be reporting to the party Leader?

I’m sure after the fuss they’ve made about the use of parliamentary resources in the past, the National government will go out of their way to ensure the ACT party don’t inappropriately use theirs…

What were the other 3 trips?

Posted by on April 24th, 2011

John Key would have us believe that his jaunts on military planes and helicopters aren’t among the ‘nice to haves’ that Bill English says we’ll all have to learn to live without, but are essential to his ability to carry out his duties as Prime Minister. If that’s the case, then he won’t have any problem issuing a full list detailing his use of airforce planes and helicopters, including the important matters of state that he was attending to that justified their use.

Stuff reported last week that Key has used the helicopter four times in the past 3 weeks alone, including the now infamous trip from the V8 supercars to the golf club. So what were the other three trips? Looking on Key’s Facebook page, the possibilities are endless. Did he use Airforce helicopters to visit the Timaru skateboard park? Perhaps he used them to make a ‘cameo appearance’ at the NZ Shearing Champs in Te Kuiti?

The PM and other Ministers should be able to use the airforce where it is necessary to carry out their official duties. But there is a pretty clear distinction between attending to official matters of state and using them to jet between photo-ops that are clearly little more than campaigning.

Every quarter Parliament and Ministerial Services issue a breakdown of spending on air travel by MPs and Ministers, but those figures don’t include the use of military aircraft. That’s an anomaly that needs to be fixed. As a general rule, I believe that use of military planes and helicopters by VIPs should be disclosed and the public should be able to judge whether the matters that they were attending to justified their use.

Meantime John Key and his Cabinet should start practicing what they preach and stop splashing taxpayer cash on photo-ops for the PM. At the last election John Key chartered a plane so that he could flit from one photo-op to the next. He should stick to that approach rather than suck military resources into his campaign machinery.

Heated car seats a ‘nice to have’?

Posted by on April 11th, 2011

Bill English has decreed that we’re all going to have to learn to get by without the ‘nice to haves’ as he slashes public spending. Apparently that new austerity is only going to apply to the rest of us, not to Mr English and his colleagues, and particularly not when it comes to where they park their posteriors.

I asked a few questions of the government about their recent decision to upgrade the fleet of ministerial BMWs. The answers were quite interesting. Apparently one of the BMWs to be based in the lower South Island will have heated seats. This is justified on the basis that it will be used for ‘long distance’ and ‘long duration’ movements. Could that be the trips Mr English takes to his pretend home in Dipton by any chance?

Interesting to note that only one of the BMWs has this added feature. Could it be that Mr English asked for it specifically? I know he suffers from a bad back, but surely in this era where the ‘nice to haves’ are out the door, he could chip in and cover his own expenses? Did he ask for this, or did the pixies at the bottom of the garden that he’s so fond of decide that he should just have it?

The new cars will have mobile office facilities and internet access too. One can just imagine Mr English sitting there in the back seat reading the latest Woman’s Weekly and checking his Facebook page. Nice to know that he’s being well looked after, what with the fresh flowers in his office (he’s one of the govt’s biggest spenders) and that nice house in Karori (not with the extra hour a week of cleaning mind you)…

What happened to crony watch?

Posted by on April 8th, 2011

When Labour was in government the NBR used to have a regular column called ‘Crony Watch’ where they would chronicle any government appointments that had any sort of political connection. Strangely, since National came go power it seems to have disappeared.

I’m wondering whether this is because they don’t feel that the National Party appointing their own activists and funders to taxpayer funded Roles is cronyism, or is it just that there are now so many of them they don’t have room?

I’m not opposed to political appointments based on merit, you shouldn’t be disqualified from public service just because you happen to have history with one party or another. I supported Labour’s decision to appoint Jim Bolger to head NZ Post and I support National’s decision to replace him with Michael Cullen.

But National’s appointments should get the same level of scrutiny as Labour’s appointments. Are we getting value for money from Don Brash’s task force given the govt reject his recommendations before they even read them? (mind you, Key doesn’t seem to be a particularly big reader of important documents).

Will ACT Party candidate Graham Scott add value to the Productivity Commission. Is Jenny Shipley the best person go head one of our largest energy companies? Should Steven Joyce have given massive taxpayer loans to a company he used to own that operates in direct competition with a government owned enterprise?

Is it a good thing that Murray McCully has decided to abandon past practice and hand-pick appointees for overseas diplomatic roles? Will that lead to cronyism? Given McCully has just appointed a sitting National MP to what should be an independent role, it’s fair to ask.

These are all legitimate questions that the media would have been asking Labour in the same circumstances. It’s a shame different standards seem to apply when the Tories are in charge.

Create your own ‘nice to have’ poster

Posted by on April 7th, 2011

“This is not a time we can afford to indulge in “nice-to-haves”, even though sections of the population feel the loss of those services.” Bill English, 29 March 2011

This quote is from a speech that Bill English gave to public service professionals.

Show Bill and John what would be “nice to have” by going to here to create your own poster, email and share it with friends and family.

Here’s mine:

Nice to have

Don’t blame the help John

Posted by on February 21st, 2011

So it turns out that John Key was informed about the purchase of a new fleet of BMWs, he just didn’t read the briefing papers. And now he is trying to blame his staff for not telling him. That’s pretty weak John.

Before I became an MP I worked for several different Ministers, and I can recall a few cases where staff slipped up and didn’t pass on information. In every case that I was involved with, the Minister concerned took the rap. Blaming the staff is a pretty weak way to operate. I certainly can’t imagine any of those Ministers, including Helen Clark using the excuse that they were too busy heading off on holiday for not attending to their job.

No doubt tomorrow Key will have a new set of excuses, but for now the chronology goes something like this:

  • Firstly, Key claims he didn’t know anything about it;
  • Then his limo driver told him about ‘a week ago’;
  • Then his limo driver told him about it ‘some weeks back’;
  • Now it turns out he was briefed in December, but chose not to read it.

John Key has been equally devious about the nature of the contract:

  • First he said they couldn’t get out of it without paying a high penalty;
  • Then he said the contract could have been cancelled without penalty;
  • Then he said the contract is a good deal for taxpayers;
  • Now he is saying the Solicitor General has advised that the govt can’t pull out of the deal.

He is hardly consistent either when it comes to how the deal was authorised:

  • First off all, he said the decision was made by the Internal affairs Department, which did not think it had to check with Ministers;
  • Then he agreed Ministers had known about the contract last year;
  • Then he said his Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy assumed last year that he would know all about and didn’t bother telling him;
  • Now he says he was informed but didn’t read the briefing paper.

This whole saga has been a shambles and suggests that Key just isn’t on top of his job. If he isn’t willing to do anything more than smile and wave for the cameras, perhaps he should hand over the detail work as Minister Responsible for Ministerial Services to somebody who doesn’t find the thought of sitting down with a thick briefing paper quite so daunting.

Ministers pocket tax-free pay increases

Posted by on January 11th, 2011

2010 was a tough year for a lot of Kiwi families. As ordinary workers faced continued increases in the cost of day-to-day living through higher power prices, higher food costs, higher ACC levies and higher GST increasing the cost of just about everything, they found that their pay packets weren’t keeping up thanks to National’s “wage freeze” policies.

At least one group, however, has been been immune from National’s wage freeze, and that’s National ministers themselves. Late in 2009 John Key announced a new ministerial housing allowance. After Bill English was found out rorting the old scheme, Key decided it was easier to blame the ‘complex’ rules rather than discipline English. As a result, Ministers have pocketed an effective pay increase.

At the end of 2009 I showed how Ministers could rort the new scheme to give themselves a new tax-free pay increase. Now we know that, contrary to Key’s claim the new scheme would be cheaper, the cost of housing Ministers in Wellington increased by 8 percent, and it’s likely to rise further as more Ministers switch houses.

The number of Ministers claiming over $10,000 per quarter has increased from 5 to 11 since Key’s new scheme was introduced. The worst part is they don’t even need to prove that they’re spending the money on accommodation. They can rent out a cheaper place and pocket the difference. It’s another rort, and this time it’s got Key’s signature on it.

It’s the little things that count…

Posted by on December 7th, 2010

Sometimes it’s the little things that tell a big story.

Parliament is sitting in the press-Xmas period under the shadow of urgency to pass a rush of “priority legislation”. 

Guess what one of the top priorities is?  Abolishing gift duty.

That’s right, at a time when Kiwi families are doing it bloody tough, when the recession is biting this year worse than last, when top earners have had two rounds of generous tax cuts, and when the government is confronted by evidence of large scale tax avoidance, their priority is abolishing gift duty.

Making it easier to transfer assets to the trusts or the kiddies (on lower tax rates) above the existing threshhold of $27k each per annum.

Surely not a prioirty in the Mana electorate, not a priority in New Lynn, nor quake-ravaged Christchurch.

Surely not an example of personal responsibility – where everone pays their fair share.

Surely not bringing relief to the squeezed middle. 

For National it is clearly a prioirty to bring yet further relief to the top. 

Sometimes it really is the little things that count.

Follow the money – and find Wong

Posted by on November 24th, 2010

Not unusual for John Key and Pansy Wong to eat with large groups of  Chinese people in Bellamys.

Pansy collected these and many other cheques which were assumed to going to the National Party – we thought they were being laundered through the Waitemata or other National Party controlled trusts.

But now we know that in fact the money has been paid into an account controlled by Pansy and Sammy Wong.

No wonder Key doesn’t want her to resign – he wants to collect the money variously decribed as hundreds of thousands and well over a million.

Key’s position not credible

Posted by on November 23rd, 2010

I’ve been reflecting on John Key’s instruction to Pansy Wong not to come to Parliament and explain her misuse of her international travel allowances. Key argues that she should wait until Parliamentary Services have completed their inquiry so that she has all of the facts. That’s simply not credible.

Is John Key seriously arguing that he doesn’t expect Pansy Wong to know how many times she has visited China in the past 14 years and how many times her husband has done so? Does he seriously expect us to believe that she wouldn’t know who had paid for those trips, and, even if she couldn’t recall on the spur of the moment, wouldn’t have been able to work it out during the past week?

As Phil Goff has pointed out, other MPs have been prosecuted criminally for doing what Pansy Wong has done. John Key should stop trying to cover for her and insist that she front up and answer for her actions. The media should stop buying into the National Party’s spin and start asking him the tough questions too.

The born-to-rule brigade

Posted by on November 17th, 2010

The Pansy Wong saga has highlighted an on-going trend in the way this National government operates. They certainly do practice what they preach in terms of “self-help/help yourself”. It seems they’re out to get everything they can off the taxpayer until they get caught.

Bill English tried to pretend that he lived in Dipton so that he could claim a housing allowance, even though his wife and kids all lived in Wellington. He even went so far as to ask for more money to have his house cleaned.

John Key decided the best way to deal with the housing allowance scandal was to put in place a new, more generous system for them to rort, with a lot less transparency. Many of them effectively got a big fat pay rise as a result.

Phil Heatley thought it was OK to charge up drinks at the National Party conference to his ministerial credit card. He then took his family on holiday to the South Island and thought it was OK to ask the taxpayer to stump up for the bill for that too.

Richard Worth thought it was acceptable to mix his ministerial and private business interests, travelling to India and using his ministerial title to promote private interests. He was up to some other stuff too, but goodness knows what (it was enough for John Key to lose confidence in him, but he never did say why…)

Anne Tolley decided to take a literal interpretation of the term ‘helicopter view’ and took a taxpayer funded helicopter sight-seeing trip over Auckland.

Pansy Wong thought it was alright for her husband’s business interests to be subsidised by the taxpayer, through abuse of her international travel privileges and also possibly by using her taxpayer funded office as the premises for private business interests.

After nine years in opposition, the National Party seem to be making up for lost time. They’re out for everything they can get. What appals me is that John Key seems to think it’s OK to pass the buck and try to help them cover things up. Classic case of do as I say, but not as I do.

Systemic Market Failure?

Posted by on September 22nd, 2010

When this country is in recession and Kiwi families are doing it bloody tough, I cannot bear to stand by and see rich and powerful private interests – whom I will not name at this point and this post is not about SCF – rorting the rules and using their clubs and networks to finesse processes.

It makes Godzone look like “the coldest banana republic in the world”.

For goodness sake interests associated with the Natural Dairy Crafar farms bid (potentially with Nat links) reportedly gave $200,000 to the National Party while the Natural Dairy application was still before the OIO and while National has a ministerial policy review underway. 

National should IMMEDIATELY reject that bid – otherwise what is left to separate this from complete corruption?  Brown envelopes?  Is David Garrett really the only sick or crooked puppy on the Govt benches? 

Was it OK for the OIO-overseeing Minister of Finance to lease his (trust’s) house to the govt for a staggering ministerial rent, or accept hours of free TV for his “Plain English” ads?  Isn’t it time we Kiwis stood up and demanded that the tories do sweat the small stuff like the rest of us?  Isn’t it time John key held SOMEONE to account for SOMETHING rather than smile, wave and make excuses?

The Fendalton and Queen St methods are different from the Crafar one but they are even more dangerous and subversive: very polite circles of influence in the clubs and boardrooms – with massive flows of funds through anonymous trusts that violate the intent of the Electoral Finance Act.  Prestigious law firms and lobbyists.  This is up with the worst sort of influence peddling  I saw in Washington D.C. –  One dollar one vote:  permanent plutocracy unless we fight back.

Beyond political donations, look at the ability of the rich and powerful to get their way while the poor and middle struggle: $2 billion a year of tax avoidance through LAQCs and trusts that National in government has refused to touch.  Half the top 100 welathiest NZers are still not on the top tax rate!

This post is not about SCF, but researching that issue has opened my eyes to the complexity of the company and accounting structures in daily use around the markets.   One prominent international investment broker told me he tells his clients never to invest in NZ other than through an ASIC-regulated (Australian) vehicle, because our market is a wild west.

Well what is the point of getting our savings rate up (and asking hard working families to go without consumtion) if the investment vehicles we need to get the money to our struggling firms are being milked and siphoned by fees and sweet deals to the cronies in the markets?  Why would any sane Kiwi sweat 80 hours a week to build a real business here?  Where will our kids choose to live?

We are talking the need for a full scale root and branch reform.  For example, is the Trustee model not a fiction?  Issuers want tame trustees; trustees want clients.  How do you prevent a race to the bottom?  I will wager now the FMA Bill will not do the job.  We have BIG problems here folks. 

It might have been cool to point the finger at Labour when the champers was flowing during the bubble hype days; but corporate influence peddling is about as attractive as a bucket of sick in the middle of a recession.

There is a real risk of systemic market failure in the NZ financial markets.     They remind me of telecommunications markets in the 1990s – time for a big cleanup.

It is not right and not fair on the silent majority who play by the rules and who are getting absolutely screwed. 

It will only get worse until we have a Govt with the guts to stand up to it.   The smiling millionaire from Bankers Trust is hardly likely to do that!

Recovery slowing – interest rates dropping

Posted by on July 2nd, 2010

Kiwibank have dropped their interest rates – a clear indication that smiling and waving and voting yourself some more housing money has not been good enough to keep the recovery on track in NZ.