Investigation finds possible financial irregularities at Counties Manukau DHB

Independent lawyers have been hired by Counties Manukau District Health Board to investigate financial reporting irregularities. 

A forensic review has raised serious questions about financial reporting on a big construction project at Middlemore Hospital and conferences between 2013 and 2016.

Two further inquiries were initially planned, but Ministry of Health director-general Ashley Bloomfield said there was no point in continuing to probe into the mistakes.

"What I'm really interested in is making sure it doesn't happen again," Dr Bloomfield said.

Counties Manuaku DHB's behaviour was surprising, disappointing, unethical and unacceptable, he said.

He has now passed the ball back to the South Auckland health board.

"It's definitely not trying to make it go away," Dr Bloomfield said.

"I've made the [forensic] report public, I've made public the letter I've sent to the district health board chairs and chief executives which sent a very clear and strong message.

"I have referred the report back to the Counties Manukau District Health Board where there is a new chair and a new chief executive. What I am trying to do is to assure the public that they can have confidence in the board and in the public health system, that we will not sweep these things under the carpet."

The DHB is calling in lawyers to determine whether it should take more legal action.

DHB chairman Vui Mark Gosche, appointed in the fallout from revelations of a swathe of leaky and seismic building problems at Middlemore, said there were issues the $120,000 review from auditors Beattie Varley did not pursue.

"What we want to do is to make sure that there are no more questions left hanging."

Mr Gosche said the board, which had many new members, had not discharged its responsibilities as a board "because we've got to be able to sign off our audits and at the moment none of us are confident in signing off an audit."

Mr Gosche was initially unable to tell RNZ whether if his new chief executive Margie Apa was on the executive leadership team in the period 2013 to 2016 when the financial irregularities occurred.

But he quickly called back to say he had asked her and that Ms Apa had told him that she was one of the managers who challenged the chief executive Geraint Martin at the time.

"She did raise the issue, and it was difficult for people to do that, as you can imagine, but there were people that were standing up for the issues in the ELT [executive leadership team]," Mr Gosche said.

The forensic review said that at least two managers voiced alarm to Mr Martin, telling him the reports they were seeing "must contain some false accounting". Mr Martin was not happy that they did this.

"What I don't know is whether the executive leadership team was fully informed on these matters, and what I have been told is that a lot of the information wasn't even shared with the board," Mr Gosche said.

Ms Apa declined to be interviewed.

Geraint Martin was ultimately responsible as then-chief executive for what went on, Mr Gosche said.

Mr Martin, now chief executive of Te Papa, declined to be interviewed

He pointed to the statement he gave RNZ a day earlier, that said he was pleased the auditors found no evidence of improper conduct or wrongdoing but concerned that he and other key former staff and board members were not interviewed.

Dr Bloomfield said they were given two chances to be interviewed but no one took this up, and they also were sent the draft and final forensic review reports for comment.

The Counties Manukau DHB says there's been a "progressive increase" in the amount of time patients stay at Middlemore.
Source: 1 NEWS

The DHB's investigation may not stop here. Mr Gosche is no longer ruling out a further inquiry into how a second, earlier, construction contract was set up even though the ministry and top managers said a review would serve no public benefit.

By Phil Pennington

New Zealand's female MPs, including Jacinda Ardern with baby Neve, recreate 1905 Parliament photo

New Zealand's female MPs have today recreated a 1905 photo of former Premier Richard Seddon and his colleagues. 

It comes as the country celebrates 125 years since women won the right to vote. However, women were not allowed to stand in Parliament until 1919. Elizabeth McCombs was elected as the first female MP in 1933. 

Richard Seddon, the 15th Premier of New Zealand, sits with his colleagues in 1905.
Richard Seddon, the 15th Premier of New Zealand, sits with his colleagues in 1905. Source: Supplied

Jacinda Ardern cradles her baby Neve in the photograph. 

Mr Seddon was New Zealand Premier from 1893 to 1906, winning five consecutive elections. 

Richard Seddon, the 15th Premier of New Zealand, sits with his colleagues in 1905.
Richard Seddon, the 15th Premier of New Zealand, sits with his colleagues in 1905. Source: Supplied

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, baby Neve and New Zealand's female MPs.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, baby Neve and New Zealand's female MPs. Source: Supplied


Up to 200 Fonterra staff fly to California resort for meeting as co-op announces $196 million loss

Fonterra has responded to revelations members of its Europe-based staff travelled at least 9000 kilometres to attend a meeting at a California resort town by saying the location was chosen because of its proximity to Los Angeles Airport.

NBR has reported up to 200 staff from the co-op's New Zealand milk product division attended the sales and marketing meeting at the tourist and surf mecca Huntington Beach at the time Fonterra was announcing a historic annual loss of $196 million last week.

The NZ Herald reports Fonterra responded to questions about the meeting with a statement.

Los Angeles Airport sign.
Los Angeles Airport sign. Source: Getty

"NZMP is an international business, with the majority of staff and customers based offshore, including a significant number in Europe, the US and South America," it read. 

"Every two years, select members of this team come together for a sales and marketing meeting to review performance and develop strategic plans for the following 12 months.

"The location of the global meeting varies but is always organised near a major airport hub. The venue for this year's meeting was selected due to its proximity to LAX. Bookings for the event were made several months ago to ensure cost efficiencies."

NZMP is the dairy ingredients brand of Fonterra.

The Herald noted Huntington Beach is at least an hour's drive from LAX.

Its report said while it's not unusual for large international businesses like Fonterra to hold conferences overseas, the farmer-owned cooperative is in the public spotlight for its financial performance, number of managers and staff salaries. 

Fonterra's annual report last week had showed nearly 6000 staff were paid at least $100,000.

The dairy giant today revealed a near-$200 million annual loss, the first in its 17-year history. Source: 1 NEWS


Rentable e-scooters could 'revolutionise' way Aucklanders get around with 2500 set to hit city's streets

A fleet of e-scooters is about to hit Auckland streets which the public can rent to get around town.

A media release today says an initial order of 500 Onzo e-scooters are en route to Auckland and set to hit the streets next month.

The company says a further 2000 will join them in coming months.

With a 250W motor, the e-scooters are capable of top speeds of around 30 kilometres per hour and can cover around 30 kilometres before requiring a recharge.

"E-scooters are great because they make travelling easy and fun," Onzo Chief Growth Officer, Min-Kyu Jung, says.

"Unlike bikes, e-scooters are allowed to be used on footpaths and don’t require helmets. They're perfect to pick up anywhere, anytime, for last-mile journeys such as between the bus stop and the office.

"I think this is totally going to revolutionise the way Aucklanders travel around this city. We're designing the system to make it super quick, easy, and cheap to pick up e-scooters for short journeys multiple times a day."

The scooters are said to feature regenerative braking to recharge the battery when the brakes are applied, or when a rider is going downhill.

They also have front and rear lights for added safety.

Just like Onzo's bikes, the system will be dockless and users will simply use the Onzo app to unlock the scooters from wherever they're left around the city by the previous rider.

Onzo will crowdsource the recharging of the scooters at night to the public.

Onzo e-scooter. Source: Supplied

Winston Peters explains party's support for raising refugee quota

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says NZ First shared the Labour Party's "aspiration" to increase the refugee quota, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced it will be raised to 1500 today.

The NZ First Party leader's position was in stark contrast to comments made at the start of the month at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru.

"We never made a commitment to double the refugee quota," Mr Peters told media at the time.

The Deputy PM went on to argue there were other priorities for the Government.

"We've got 50,000 people who are homeless back home, and I can show you parts of the Hokianga and elsewhere, parts of Northland, with people living in degradation.

"We have to fix their lives up as well before we start taking on new obligations of the level that some people would like."

However, while standing next to Ms Ardern during the announcement today he took a much softer line on the refugee issue.

"This is about people not about politics and controversy, the fact is it was put to me in Nauru that the 1500 figure was already there, which it wasn't.

"The Labour Party policy I knew was an aspiration towards that, so was New Zealand First's an aspiration towards that, and I knew the Greens had a higher target," Mr Peters said.

"All I did was put out the plain facts and to say that it was a work in progress and I'm not surprised with the speed at which the progress has taken place.

"This was always on the cards that we'd get it done when we had all the background work done on refugee centres and a host of other things," he continued.

PM Jacinda Ardern made the announcement today. Source: 1 NEWS

New Zealand's refugee quota was previously 1000, after being increased by the National-led Government from 750 in 2016.

The new quota will take effect from July 2020. 

Major points

- There will be six new settlement locations, on top of re-establishing Christchurch as a settlement location.

- Expanding the public housing supply for 150 extra refugee families is expected to cost $32.5 million over three years.

- Budget 2018 included money to build new accommodation blocks at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre  

The NZ First leader said the increase was “always on the cards”. Source: 1 NEWS