National ties denied by Budget recipient

By Simon Collins

Finance Minister Bill English has come under fire. Photo / Marty Melville
Finance Minister Bill English has come under fire. Photo / Marty Melville

The man at the centre of a political storm over funding for a Pacific employment scheme says there is no truth to rumours that he has National Party links.

JR Pereira is the sole shareholder in a company called Pacific Economic Development Agency Ltd, which was allocated $1 million a year for the next four years in last month's Budget for "Pacific economic development programmes in Auckland".

Finance Minister Bill English has come under fire in Parliament for approving the deal after meeting Mr Pereira and his associates without holding a public tender.

Radio New Zealand has reported that the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs advised its minister, Georgina te Heuheu, that it would be "risky" to give $4 million to a new and untested company.

Mr English and Mrs te Heuheu have told Parliament that no money will be paid until a "robust" purchase agreement is agreed to.

Meanwhile, a Saturday morning host on Auckland's Radio 531 PI, Efeso Collins, was stood down last Thursday after he attacked the deal on his June 12 show as "unjust, unfair and unacceptable" and said it had "everything to do with backroom politics and money for the boys".

JR Pereira's brother Tino Pereira chairs the National Pacific Radio Trust, which owns 531 PI and sister station Niu FM.

The two brothers were original directors of Pacific Economic Development Agency Ltd when it was registered in November 2007, along with former United Nations economist Mose Saitala and Henderson accountant Alesana Talopau.

Tino Pereira resigned last December and Mr Saitala has moved to the Solomon Islands to head the Commonwealth Secretariat's governance office for the Pacific.

JR Pereira said yesterday that the proposed "Pacific skilled employment programme", which stands to get the $4 million, dates back to a 43-page proposal developed by Mr Saitala in 2007.

The programme proposed developing a database of at least 40,000 Pacific workers, mentoring and counselling the workers and their families, using the database to supply Pacific trainees for apprenticeships and industry training, and contracting with tertiary institutions to provide pre-trade numeracy and literacy training.

Mr Pereira said the proposal was presented to the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs in late 2007, when he still worked at the ministry as a regional adviser for economic development.

He said he and others talked to Mr English about it in Auckland early last year and again this year. He also discussed it with Mrs te Heuheu this year.

But, he said, he was not and never had been a member of the National Party, and voted Labour in 2002 and 2005.

WHO IS JR PEREIRA?

Age: 53.
Name: Anthony, but called JR by his father since birth.
Family: Born in Samoa, brother of National Pacific Radio Trust head Tino Pereira.
Status: Holds two traditional titles covering huge customary lands in Samoa.
Samoa career: Marketing manager for Vailima beer and Coca-Cola; later established Pepsi factory.
NZ career: Auckland University student, 2001-04; Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, 2004-08; Pacific Economic Development Agency since 2008.

- NZ Herald

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