Taxpayers' Union slams shortsighted Ministry for Pacific Peoples after $40k farewell party

The Taxpayers' Union has hit out at the Ministry for Pacific Peoples saying the government department is living in a world where "money doesn't matter". 

In a time when many Kiwis are struggling to buy essentials like groceries, the Ministry forked out just over $39,000 on a farewell party for its outgoing chief executive Leauanae Laulu Mac Leauanae in October last year. 

The nearly $40,000 included gifts worth more than $7500, $3000 on photography, flowers and ceremonial drummers and over $7000 for travel and accommodation expenses for 12 guests.

A review by the Public Services Commissioner Peter Hughes found the spending was an inappropriate use of taxpayers' money. 

Leauanae later returned the gifts and repaid the money after he became aware of the spending.

New Zealand Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams told AM on Thursday it's a bad look for the Mministry. 

He told AM co-host Ryan Bridge the Ministry of Pacific Peoples is meant to be advocating for some of the poorest New Zealanders but instead, is splashing the cash. 

"It's just another example of a government agency having lost sight of the world outside of the agency or of Wellington," he said. 

"This is supposed to be the ministry that advocates for some of the poorest New Zealanders and yet they seem to live in a world where money doesn't matter."

Williams told AM the number of staff at the Ministry has ballooned from 34 in 2017 to 145, currently. 

But he questioned if Pacific people are better off as a result of the increase in staff members. 

"What are you doing now with 145 odd stuff that you couldn't do with 34? I mean, to put this in perspective, because there'll be some criticism, $40,000 in the grand scheme of the size of government, that's more than five years of tax for a person on the minimum wage," he said.

"Peter Hughes said this was a one-off. This is one bad egg, but then I note this chief executive wasn't leaving Wellington, he was simply moving department down the road."

Leauanae was just moving to a new ministry - the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, where they held another party.

His new ministry put about $7500 towards that party, which the Public Service Commission said was acceptable. But his old Ministry for Pacific Peoples spent nearly $5000 on it, which was deemed inappropriate. 

"I don't know of an employer that the day you start, they fly your family into town," he told AM. 

New Zealand Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams.
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams. Photo credit: AM

Williams said the revelation of the extravagant farewell party comes at a time when a lot of New Zealanders are struggling with the cost of living crisis. 

"There are a lot of New Zealanders, particularly provincial and rural, that are really struggling right now. We had a minister last weekend saying that New Zealanders aren't paying enough tax," he said. 

"I'd put to you that it's examples like this that suggest Wellington just isn't catching up or hasn't got with the programme with where New Zealanders are right now." 

In a statement, Secretary for Pacific Peoples Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone said she accepted the expenditure on the farewell didn't comply with internal policies and other guidelines.

"This must be remedied with urgency. I have reviewed MPP's policies and guidance on sensitive expenditure to ensure they are robust and reflect the Public Service Commission's standards and guidance, as well as the Office of the Auditor-General's guidance on sensitive expenditure. 

"Important decisions about sensitive expenditure are now scrutinised and documented, and clear budgets set before any spending decisions are made. 

"This will ensure that something like this does not happen again. MPP's financial controls, practices and conventions now better reflect the prudent use of public money." 

Pacific Peoples Minister Barbara Edmonds, who took on the portfolio earlier this year, said it was "disappointing this has happened".

"Like all Ministers, I expect agencies to spend taxpayer dollars prudently. They were not met on this occasion," she said.

"Since becoming the Minister for Pacific Peoples, I have made my expectations around financial controls and practices clear.

"Senior Leadership at the Ministry has since changed and I have confidence in the new Chief Executive to ensure this doesn't happen again."

Watch the full interview with Jordan Williams in the video above.