Concerns raised about Treasury freebies

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the amount of gifts given to the New Zealand Debt Management Office was concerning. File photo / NZ Herald
Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the amount of gifts given to the New Zealand Debt Management Office was concerning. File photo / NZ Herald

Treasury is reviewing its gifts and hospitality policy but does not intend to conduct an audit despite staff accepting hundreds of freebies from banks and others.

The Green Party called for an audit of Treasury's New Zealand Debt Management Office based on information in Treasury's Gift and Hospitality Register released today.

The register showed Treasury staff received 234 treats in the past year valued at $50 or more, mostly from the major banks.

Staff accepted 100 free lunches and 60 dinners over the year. There were also rugby games and theatre shows among the perks staff accepted.

"The Treasury expects all its staff to maintain the highest standard of probity at all times and to judge all offers of gifts and hospitality against the policy which the new secretary has decided to review,'' a Treasury spokeswoman told NZPA.

"Moreover, the secretary (Gabriel Makhlouf), who was appointed recently, has decided to periodically publish the updated register on the Treasury's website and this will further promote increased transparency and accountability.''

Mr Makhlouf told Radio New Zealand dining out was "an intrinsic part of working with banks'' and did not compromise staff involved.

The register shows Mr Makhlouf attended theatre show the Great Gatsby at law firm Chapman Tripp's expense, as well as bank-sponsored dinners.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the practice was concerning, especially within the department's debt management office.

"The disturbing frequency and value of gifts regularly given to senior staff within the debt management office - 164 gifts in total - is something that should be closely looked at,'' he said.

"In one year alone, Westpac, ANZ, BNZ, Barclays, and Deutsche Bank made 118 gifts to Debt Management Office staff. These included lunches, dinners, and theatre and sports tickets.

"Such a culture of treating is outside of state sector rules and raises questions of a potential conflict of interest.''

An independent audit was needed to put the matter to rest, he said.

The Debt Management Office was set up in 1988 within Treasury and is responsible for managing the Government's debt.

"The banks and law firms are not giving these gifts because they are altruistic. They want something in return,'' Dr Norman said.

A small change in the terms and conditions of multi-million dollar loans to the Government could have a substantial influence on the final cost of borrowing to the taxpayer, he said.

"The average New Zealander would look at this level of gift giving and expect some answers. An audit of the Debt Management Office's behaviour is the best way to clear this up.''

- NZPA

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