Public Service Commission to investigate Kāinga Ora cover-up

The Public Service Commission has confirmed it will investigate the Government's housing developer Kāinga Ora after Newshub revealed a cover-up. 

Newshub political editor Tova O'Brien revealed earlier this week Kāinga Ora brazenly took steps to cover up the fact it was using a Labour candidate in its taxpayer-funded advertising.

Although the agency knew Manurewa MP Arena Williams was planning to run for Labour, emails show it hid the fact, choosing to act like it was unaware. 

"She's understandably nervous about people perceiving this as her electioneering ahead of her campaign announcement," a senior communications advisor said, according to the emails obtained by the National Party. 

"We can just act as though we don't know anything!"

Kāinga Ora was dobbed in to the Public Service Commission on Thursday by their own minister, Megan Woods. The watchdog has now confirmed it will investigate. 

"We need to look into what has happened here and why," Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes said in a statement on Friday. 

"Political neutrality and trustworthiness are bottom lines for the Public Service," he said. "The matters that have been raised go to trust and confidence in a key Public Service agency."

Williams was up front about her political ambitions to run for Labour. She told Kāinga Ora about it before they paid for and published an advertorial featuring her.

Kāinga Ora CEO Andrew McKenzie acknowledged on Thursday it wasn't a good look. 

"What's happened here is we've got one incident where a staff member has made some flippant comments. We've spoken to them," he told Newshub. "Things are being taken seriously."

Housing Minister Megan Woods was not happy. 

"I've spoken to both the chief executive and the chair of Kāinga Ora this morning, and also as a belts and braces approach, I've also written to Peter Hughes to seek advice whether there's anything further that needs to be done," she said on Thursday. 

National's housing spokesperson Nicola Willis wrote to the Public Services Commisioner urging him to investigate the cover-up. 

"I am concerned that the Minister of Housing has not taken these issues seriously, having apparently failed to ensure anyone at Kāinga Ora has been held accountable, nor any changes in standards or policies made," she said. 

"Despite having read the documents, the minister did no more than slap Kāinga Ora with a wet bus ticket, having her staff member write an email to Kāinga Ora expressing concern.

"I am alarmed that, when I went public with this episode, Kāinga Ora continues to be dismissive of my concerns, releasing a media statement that made what appear to be false claims, specifically denying the involvement of more than one staff member in this episode, despite documents I have obtained showing other, more senior, staff were clearly involved.

"Kāinga Ora obviously does not take its minister seriously, and has failed to grasp the seriousness of these issues."