Nanaia Mahuta and the Family Contracts

I first highlighted the issue of Nanaia Mahuta’s family contracts in June 2022 with my article “Nanaia Mahuta and the disturbing case of nepotism, conflict of interest and its implications for New Zealand”. The usually reliable Democracy Project  (Victoria University), stated that Kate McNamara (NZ Herald) first raised this issue in August 2022. Graham Adams via the Platform (and the Platform), also raised the issue in June 2022 and Thomas Cranmer first tweeted on this on 2 May 2022. Now this matter has surfaced, even the reputable Democracy Project has attempted to deceive the truth (David Farrar, on the right, wrongly lays claim to bringing this matter to people’s attention in August 2022 – albeit around family gaining specific contracts). Therefore, suspicions about Mahuta’s family were carefully being raised well before the granting of government contracts.

This is a moot point about the matter but shows how facts can become distorted. Much like the serious matter of the proposed State Service Commission (SSC) review of  how the contracts were administered and granted to Mahuta’s husband, Gannin Ormsby. As Thomas Cranmer wrote in May, “The Commissioner’s current assessment is that he does not think that this matter reaches the threshold for an inquiry using his powers under the Public Service Act.”  Effectively, he has already prejudged the outcome, before an investigation has even started. The problem is that the investigation is only reviewing how the various contracts were granted. Yet, as Thomas Cranmer says, “In addition, the Auditor General is said to be considering whether to open an investigation and I think there are good grounds for him to do so.”  Thus, the SSC is saying no inquiry is required under the Public Service Act to investigate whether Mahuta has effectively breached the Cabinet Manual, or in fact whether there are elements of corruption, while on the other hand, the Auditor General is interested in an inquiry. I hope the Auditor General carries out an appropriate inquiry.

As David Farrar commented, “Agencies appear to have bent over backwards to shovel work to Ormsby and co. Most contractors must go through a burdensome tender process where you spend a couple of days filling in an RFP and then a panel considers all the RFPs against known criteria and recommend a contract. But in all these cases Ormsby was contracted with no tender and sometimes without even a written contract.”

Not only has Ormsby been appointed many contracts under dubious circumstances, he also suggested in one of his contract documents that Nanaia be paid $2,000 – $3,000 for a presentation. Wisely, she turned the offer down,  but it clearly shows the extent Ormsby and Mahuta are prepared to go to, not only to breach conflicts of interest, but to effectively line their pockets at the taxpayers’ expense. This is normally corruption, but not in the Mahuta world. It is questionable whether any review will scrutinise this. It should be addressed along with the deeper issues that are at play.  A journalist asked Mahuta, “David Seymour used the word ‘corruption.’ Is that fair?”

Furthermore, there is the question of Mahuta appointing her niece to the committee that prepared He Puapua. The journalist who asked this question failed to mention the report, but the intention of the question was clear. “With the fourth case, where you had a hand in choosing — was it your niece? — where you had a hand in the appointment process, the fourth case, which is not being investigated, was that managed properly?” (Graham Adams, 27 September 2022)

In fact, Adams was referring to the fifth case. “Mahuta knew she was referring to the appointment of Waimirirangi Ormsby — her niece by marriage — to the He Puapua Working Group in 2019 when she was Minister of Māori Development / Te Puni Kōkiri.

“Mahuta avoided mentioning He Puapua by name in her answer — presumably to not draw the attention of the other journalists, or the viewing public, to exactly what the question referred to” (Graham Adams, 27 September 2022).

In the case of Three Waters, matters get worse. As Thomas Cranmer highlights, Nanaia Mahuta’s sister, Tipa Mahuta, “was promptly appointed to the key role of Chair of Te Puna. So much for independence. In her defence, Mahuta claims to have followed the requirements of the Cabinet Manual by temporarily transferring the ministerial appointment powers to her colleague, Kelvin Davis. Whilst that addresses the conflict arising from the appointment, it does not address the egregious on-going conflict that exists by both sisters now occupying these two key roles. Paragraph 2.73 of the Cabinet Manual describes this scenario as a “substantial and enduring conflict” and suggests that “it may be necessary to consider a permanent change to some or all of the Minister’s portfolio responsibilities” (Thomas Cranmer, 28 September 2022).

Cranmer details the problem, but in essence, he states clearly that “we have a scenario where mana whenua can issue Te Mana o te Wai statements to the boards of the water service entities without any limit to their scope or frequency – and the supposedly independent watchdog is the Minister’s sister, Tipa Mahuta. The implications for the agricultural sector and city water supply are wide-reaching.

“The appointment of Tipa Mahuta to the role of Chair of Te Puna, and the on-going conflict that exists by virtue of the fact… both sisters now occupy these two key roles does not form part of the review currently being undertaken by the Public Service Commissioner. For any investigation to be comprehensive and conclusive, this appointment should also be examined” (Thomas Cranmer, 28 September 2022).

Of course, Nanaia Mahuta is content with the SSC investigation because it does not cover her involvement and family in all of this. It is about government departmental processes. The real issue is not being covered.

As such, Labour is deliberately avoiding the real issue by the nature of the investigation, and National and to some degree ACT, are failing in their duty of care to challenge the potential nature of corruption and matters of conflict of interest relating to Mahuta and her family.

Finally, the key question that remains is whether the current investigation is deliberately limited in scope and misses the main issue. In essence, the outcome has already been decided, with government departments the culprits. Wrongly, the investigation does not and will not question both the integrity of the minister and potential elements of corruption and serious conflicts of interest. All political parties are at fault, not wishing to address the full nature of this insidious problem.

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