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Transparency concerns around Provincial Growth Fund 'kind of justified', Paula Bennett says

Outgoing National MP Paula Bennett has warned against ministers potentially "going around and distributing funds as they kind of pick a favourite project" after transparency concerns were raised around the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF).

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NZ First's Shane Jones and National's Paula Bennett joined Breakfast to discuss the Auditor-General's remarks. Source: Breakfast

It comes after yesterday's release of Auditor-General John Ryan's report saying the PGF needs to be more transparent over how it operates.

New Zealand First MP Shane Jones and Ms Bennett joined TVNZ1 Breakfast's political panel this morning as Parliament prepares to sit for the final time ahead of the September general election.

Mr Jones said the Auditor-General has made three recommendations in his report but they are "really directed at the bureaucracy - a government department called MBIE (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment)."

The three recommendations include:

- MBIE strengthen its transparency around the PGF's processes.

- MBIE, the Ministry for Primary Industries, and the Ministry of Transport work together to continue to enhance consolidated reporting and more meaningfully report to Parliament and the public on the fund.

- MBIE to complete and publish a plan for evaluating the effectiveness of the PGF to ensure transparency around how officials plan to give assurance to Parliament and the public about what it is achieving both regionally and nationally.

"There's always scope for improving not only evaluation, but I do think that we do need to bare in mind the previous government had $11 million, we decided to turbo-charge things to $3 billion," Mr Jones said.

"The Auditor-General has worked month by month with the team of bureaucrats administering the fund and he's got some useful suggestions and no doubt our future government will pick them up."

However, the Regional Economic Development Minister denied NZ First was effectively buying votes in the North as part of their reelection campaign.

"Sadly, that meme of fake news has gathered a slight degree of momentum," he said. "I don't accept that that is what the Auditor-General said."

Mr Jones said Mr Ryan had instead identified that many of the regions around New Zealand had "suffered a deficit of infrastructure opportunity for a long time".

"I don't shy away from the fact that over half a billion dollars has been dedicated to the north, and probably another half a billion has put into the north through roading infrastructure, so I think the dividend that the north is taken out over a period of three years - probably up to $1.2, $1.3 [billion] and I'm very proud of that."

However, Ms Bennett said we "must be very careful that ministers aren't kind of going around and distributing funds as they kind of pick a favourite project".

"It's got to be that it stacks up, that it's value for money - that it's part of a bigger picture of 'are we getting the country moving?'

"When you ask the regions what they really want, they seriously want transport, they seriously want infrastructure, they want broadband, they want those sorts of things.

"There is some risk and you can see it in the Auditor-General's report when you've kind of got ministers making decisions from the hoof for what can be seen as, perhaps, not the best decisions, and I just think that's probably some of the concerns in the fund and I think they're kind of justified."