Oops! Sister cities cost an extra $150,000

By Bernard Orsman

Auckland City bureaucrats have admitted leaving staff costs of about $150,000 off the cost of the council's sister city programme - 24 hours after Mayor Dick Hubbard admitted his $500 million estimate of trade generated by his trip to Hamburg was based on guesswork.

The council told the Herald on Wednesday that it spent $120,000 a year on programmes with its five sister and two friendship cities but did not include staff costs of about $150,000, bringing the annual cost to $270,000.

Also, the $270,000 figure excludes trips by Mr Hubbard and councillors to sister cities, which are paid from different budgets and have totalled about $60,000 so far in this term of the council.

Last October, ratepayers paid $30,000 for a delegation of Mr Hubbard, councillor John Hinchcliff and the city's manager of international affairs, Caroline Lassiter, to travel to Hamburg to look at forging a "strategic alliance", and to Busan in Korea to celebrate 10 years of a sister city relationship.

Last night, a council spokeswoman said there was no intention to downplay the true costs of the sister city programme.

"I'm not trying to cover up anything," the spokeswoman said.

Earlier in the day the same spokeswoman was "pretty sure" the $120,000 was the full cost of the sister city programme, including staff.

In July last year, the council provided figures to the Herald showing the cost for the international affairs division was $273,179 in the 2005-2006 financial year.

That included three full-time staff, sister city programmes, help to Mr Hubbard and councillors for visiting dignitaries, arranging study visits for international delegations and office costs.

Mr Hubbard has been furious at the Herald's coverage of his trip to Hamburg and the decision by the partnership committee on Monday to add Hamburg to the list of sister cities.

The Hamburg alliance was a coup, of huge economic significance for Auckland and "one of the significant successes of my mayoralty", he said.

Under Mr Hubbard's leadership, and during a two-year period of 25 per cent rates rises for households, overseas travel by the mayor and councillors has blown out to more than $150,000.

That included a month-long tour of North America and Europe by City Vision councillors Vern Walsh and Penny Sefuiva, with two officials, which cost $85,000.

The previous council spent $92,000 during a similar timeframe.

Deputy Mayor Dr Bruce Hucker yesterday said that he had cancelled a trip to the sister city of Guangzhou in China planned for about now.

He said his presence was no longer needed at an educational fair to "open doors" for New Zealand delegates.

The decision not to go was made in December, he said.

How much do they cost to run?

* Wednesday: $120,000 a year.

* Yesterday: $270,000 a year.

Source: Auckland City Council (both days)

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