Barry Soper: Finger pointing follows budget blowout for Govt refit

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Health Minister Jonathan Coleman. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Beehive boys have been caught with their pants down but rather than modestly covering themselves up, they instead boldly 'brown eyed' their opponents.

It would have been easy to save face, to be a little contrite, because the main players in the Health Ministry's "serious financial mismanagement" (so described by Treasury), had already rolled their own heads.

The lispy Tony Ryall, a former bean counter, was the Health Minister when papers went before his Cabinet colleagues to sign off a $24m refit for its Wellington headquarters - with an assurance there was enough money in cash reserves to cover it.

The Director General who supplied the papers to the Minister resigned the following year and his unfortunate successor, Chai Chuah, was appointed to the job after the election and when the refurbishment was well underway.

Well the cash reserves were $18m short, which will now be extracted from the Ministry by the building's owners, tacking it on to the rent of its swanky new offices over the next 15 years.

It was gold for Labour who'd poured through the mine of papers after getting them through the Official Information Act.

Securing a snap debate in Parliament's bear pit, a grizzly Andrew Little waved his paws at the "disgraceful" Government, accusing them of being asleep at the wheel, showing their arrogance after eight years in office and refusing to accept responsibility for anything that doesn't go their way.

With Ryall enjoying retirement, his successor Jonathan Coleman was put up as the fall guy but refused to go down for the count, instead insisting to Labour that if this is the biggest issue they can come up with then they're in real trouble. Rather than addressing the issue though, he banged on about the abysmal Labour record on health, painting the Nats as the 'Mother Teresa' of tending to the sick. He should have been shut down by the chair.

But the good doctor did eventually tell them his Ministry had made a mistake, declaring the current Director General Chai Chuah has taken responsibility for it, and has assured Coleman it won't happen again.

Of course, it's hardly the current Director General's responsibility, given he wasn't around at the time.

On this one the buck will stop, not at any minister's desk where it belongs, but in the building owner's bank account.

- NZME.

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