Prime Minister Chris Hipkins responds amid confusion over Meng Foon's resignation as Race Relations Commissioner

Meng Foon says he's now officially gone as Race Relations Commissioner, but Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says he had already resigned in a letter on Friday.  

There's been confusion over whether Foon had actually quit the role, with the Government saying he had, but the former Gisborne Mayor earlier on Monday saying he hadn't.

However, Foon's now told Newshub that he had resigned. He had received notice from the minister's office that it had been accepted.

Hipkins told reporters at a press conference earlier that he had treated an email Foon sent him last Friday saying he was resigning as a resignation letter.

He read the email out to reporters.

"I am resigning as the Race Relations Commissioner as I didn't declare the amount of money MY Gold Investments was receiving from MSD. I'll resign Sunday," Hipkins said the email said.

Hipkins said he took that at face value.

"When he writes and says, I am resigning, I take that as a resignation," Hipkins said.

"The advice I have received is that it was a resignation letter and the Government was correct to accept it as a resignation letter."

However, Foon initially contested that. He said that as he had said in the email that he'd formally resign on Sunday, his resignation hadn't come into effect when it was announced by the Government in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Foon said he was surprised when news broke on Friday of his resignation and he hadn't formally resigned. 

"The news broke out and everything was mayhem for the news," he told Newshub on Monday morning. 

"I thought, 'oh gosh, I haven't even put in my formal resignation letter to [Russell]'. I said, it must have leaked out of the Prime Minister's Office."

Prime Minister Hipkins was asked whether his office had leaked out his pending resignation.

"No, I disagree. He had emailed in his resignation. We were receiving media queries about his resignation and answered those."

The ordeal began in April when it emerged Foon had donated to political parties, despite his position requiring him to be politically neutral. The Human Rights Commission (HRC) said at the time that it would assess the situation.

That probe led to Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt claiming to Associate Justice Minister Deborah Russell that Foon hadn't adequately declared other interests. 

For example, a company directed by Foon received Ministry of Social Development (MSD) payments while Foon was involved in an HRC inquiry into emergency housing. 

After meeting with Foon and taking advice, Russell said she came to the view that Foon's actions were serious enough to warrant removal. 

"Had the process been completed it is probable I would have determined his actions represented a serious breach of the Crown Entities Act and I would have taken the next steps to recommend to the Governor-General to remove him from his office," she said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Foon chose "to resign" before that, Russell said.

But Foon said he wasn't intending to formally resign until Sunday and the "news has beaten me".

He said he was planning to resign "for my error of judgement on political donations and our company is an emergency housing provider". 

He claimed to have declared that his company was an emergency housing provider in 2019 prior to his appointment as the Race Relations Commissioner.

Foon claims to have been "transparent" with the commission, but acknowledged he didn't declare his perceived conflict at a housing inquiry board meeting "as I didn't think I needed to". In hindsight, he admits this was a "mistake".

Hipkins said on Monday that advice received by Russell said the relevant processes weren't followed by Foon and his conflicts weren't appropriately managed.