Update on the Peda file: the lad from Dipton has a PESS mess to clean up

My involvement in the Peda matter? Let me think about it...


When the Beehive announces something just before Christmas, Alf learned long ago, they are hoping people are so preoccupied with preparations for the festive season that they won’t pay much attention.

It worked with Alf, when the Peda file was updated.

In effect, the announcement was that Santa would not be bringing goodies to the Pacific Economic Development Agency (Peda).

This company with a single shareholder – some of us might recall – was given a generous dollop of dosh ($4.8m over four years) in the May Budget to “improve the economic wellbeing of Pacific people in Auckland”.

But this handout caused something of a ruckus about shortcomings with the tender process and the over-riding of Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs advice that Peda was unproven and a risky investment.

Actually, there had been no tender process, but because of the ruckus the money was later opened up to competitive bids.

Lo and behold, seven months after Budget 2010 and just as we were all making last-minute Christmas purchases, the ministry announced that four companies had been chosen to receive $2.3m over two years.

As the Herald observed:

Peda is not one of them, though the ministry acknowledges that Peda’s advocacy led to the money allocation in the first place.

The companies are: charitable trust SENZ, In-Work NZ, Crosspower Ministries Trust and C-Me Mentoring Foundation Trust.

The project, called the Pacific Employment Support Services (PESS) project, will be implemented and managed by the ministry. It will target 700 16- to 25-year-old Pacific people in Auckland to help them into higher education and sustainable employment.

The boss of the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, Colin Tukuitonga, was asked how come it had taken so long to contract the services.

“It’s taken a while to get here but given the money involved we wanted to make sure we ran a robust process, and secured the best possible value,” Dr Tukuitonga said.

Dipton’s best-known citizen, Finance Minister Bill English, could do with a bit of instruction in robust processes from this Tukuitonga fellow.

In a further updating of the Peda file today, the Herald tells us that English had flexed a great deal of ministerial muscle but not much polical or managerial sense in handling the matter in the run-up to Budget 2010.

Among other high-handed actions (or inactions), he had kept the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, and the Treasury in the dark.

Alf has great admiration for Bill English and can not imagine he is the sort of bloke who might side-step normal Government processes.

He can only suppose poor old Bill had been starved of the mashed swede that is brain fodder for Southlanders.

He became curiously impulsive as a consequence.

Documents obtained by the Herald show that after meeting Pacific leaders in Auckland, he decided to grant a little-known private company, the Pacific Economic Development Agency (Peda), $4.8 million for Pacific youth programmes.

When his office informed the Treasury in March, officials asked the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs for information, but no one at the ministry knew of the initiative.

When ministry officials told the Treasury they know nothing, a Treasury analyst responded: “We are even more in the dark on this one – there are no Cabinet papers or anything else … maybe worth asking your minister’s office.”

It didn’t take the ministry too long to evaluate Peda as untested, inexperienced and with a track record of not working well with others.

But it proposed working with Peda to mitigate these risks in a robust purchase agreement.

According to the Herald, the Cabinet did not approve the proposal until a month after Bill had instructed the Treasury to include the money for Peda in the Budget.

And so the money was announced in May as going to Peda.

But then came the ruckus and all sorts of political howz-yer-father, and in August the ministry opened it up to a competitive tender process.

The upshot was the Christmas announcement that four providers would be contracted and Peda was not one of them.

Inevitably, this carry-on has given Labour the stuff for mud-slinging and that Goff bugger is banging on about the whole process being a disgrace.

“Usually if you’re making a proper decision, you’d be looking for advice from Treasury, advice from the relevant ministry, and normally you’d run a tender process to ensure you were getting the best value for money.”

He also criticised the timing of the release – two days before Christmas, to minimise the impact.

The Beehive spin doctors are doing their best with these awkward developments.

A spokesman for Bill English said the contract was an injection of new money for Pacific problems and it should be celebrated.

The spokesman had an explanation for the way his boss had short-circuited the normal procedures.

“Ministers oversee the Budget process – officials don’t make Budget decisions,” he said.

But that leaves the small matter of Bill’s response to a Parliamentary question on 22 June.

Phil Goff: Why does the minister not simply come clean and acknowledge that he, rather than Mrs te Heuheu, negotiated this deal, and that it was done without the normal standards of transparency, accountability and due diligence that should have been followed before he included the commitment to a specific untested agency in the Budget?

Bill English: Because that is simply not correct.

Hmm.

Here’s hoping Bill has been scoffing lots of mashed swede during his holiday.

He needs to get his brain in shape for the further questioning that seems inevitable when we all get back to Parliament and the election-year politicking begins.

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