New Zealand First MP Shane Jones has come under fire for failing to disclose dozens of meetings related to the Provincial Growth Fund.
National Party spokesperson for economic and regional development Paul Goldsmith says it's "not a good look" for Mr Jones, telling Newshub it's the "scale of this over an extended period of time that makes me nervous".
Mr Jones has had to correct 20 answers to questions from National after failing to record the meetings. He said he takes full responsibility for the mistake, telling RNZ he shall "take it on the chin".
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But Mr Goldsmith said that's not good enough. In a statement on Monday, he said it "seems extraordinary that a minister with responsibility for $3 billion of spending can suddenly recall more than 60 meetings he'd forgotten to mention earlier".
Mr Goldsmith said it's "completely implausible" that Mr Jones did not notice when signing off on his answers to written questions that there were significant volumes of meetings missing.
He said it occurred over seven months and the 61 errors took one month to be officially corrected after discrepancies in Mr Jones' original answers were noticed.
"Shane Jones has ducked detailed questions about how he's been spending the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF). Accountability and transparency have been missing in action over the PGF, which was part of the horse trading that went into the coalition Government," said Mr Goldsmith.
The Government has allocated $3 billion over a three-year term to invest in regional economic development through the Provincial Growth Fund. The initial focus of the fund will be on ensuring the priority regions are "investment ready".
Some of the meetings Mr Jones forgot to disclose include local mayors, tourism groups, businesspeople, and get-togethers with Kiwifruit New Zealand and Whakatōhea Mussels, RNZ reports.
"The problem with Mr Jones is that he's been cavalier in his approach to the Provincial Growth Fund," Mr Goldsmith told Newshub. "He's spending $3 billion. We try and find out where the money's going and what it's being spent on and how the decisions are made."
Asked if Mr Jones' meetings with regional and sector representative groups raised concerns over conflict of interest with the fund, Mr Goldsmith said he's "not making any accusations" but wants to ensure New Zealanders that the $3 billion fund is "appropriately organised and run".
"What we've seen so far is that it's not as open as we'd like and the information is very slow about where the money is going."
Mr Goldsmith said he'd "expect that the Prime Minister [Jacinda Ardern] will be watching closely" and "insisting that Mr Jones puts greater effort into getting accurate answers to his questions".
"I wouldn't be calling for [Mr Jones'] sacking immediately, but I think he should be on a last warning because of his cavalier approach to the way he operates a $3 billion fund."
Mr Jones isn't the first minister to come under fire over undisclosed meetings. Clare Curran resigned from her roles as Minister for Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media and Associate Minister for ACC after she didn't record meetings she had at the Beehive.
"Mr Jones must not think the dismissal of Clare Curran was justified when he thinks he is above the standard expected by the Prime Minister," said Mr Goldsmith.
The Provincial Growth Fund Mr Jones oversees has been scrutinised for not delivering on some of its promises. In September, it was announced $2.4 million would be poured into a cultural centre in Kawakawa, Northland, in a bid to create jobs and boost the local economy.
But Newshub revealed that the centre's only expected to create three jobs and officials warned that instead of stimulating the economy, it could jeopardise other local businesses.
"$2.4 million for three jobs is $800,000 a job. It would be easier just to pay three people and stop wasting Government money," ACT Party leader David Seymour said at the time.
This fund is aimed at investing in regional New Zealand to ensure that all regions have the potential to attract investment, raise incomes and increase employment opportunities.