The husband and family members of Labour Minister Nanaia Mahuta were awarded contracts worth $90,000 by the Ministry for the Environment in a period when Mahuta was the department's Associate Minister.
A spokesperson for Minister Mahuta said "the Minister has had no involvement in the appointment of family members."
Documents released under the provisions of the OIA show that Ka Awatea Services, a consultancy owned by (William) Gannin Ormsby, Mahuta's husband, was paid $25,000 for work that began in late October, 2020, and ran for 12 months. The work was described by the Ministry as "Maori expert rōpū".
A second consultancy, Kawai Catalyst, owned by Tamoko Ormsby, a relative of Gannin Ormsby, and his wife, Waimirirangi Ormsby, was paid $65,000, for work described as "support for Maori expert rōpū" over the same period.
Both Tamoko Ormsby and Waimirirangi Ormsby are also directors of Gannin Ormsby's consultancy, Ka Awatea. And in 2020, the Ministry for the Environment described Waimirirangi Ormsby as project manager at Ka Awatea.
A spokesperson for the Ministry for the Environment declined to confirm whether any further fees have been paid to consultancies connected with the Ormsbys outside the financial year 2020/21; the department is considering the Herald's questions under the OIA process.
The three family members made up the majority of a five member Māori group of advisers, or "rōpū", formed by the Ministry in 2020, to contribute to a waste strategy review.
The group was described by the department at the time as "Māori waste minimisation technical experts and thought leaders with wide experience in the sector."
The Ministry said the group would guide the development of a new waste strategy according to mātauranga Māori.
Sam Buckle, deputy secretary of water policy and resource efficiency at the Ministry, said the rōpū was not asked to prepare a separate report: "they were required to provide expertise and advice incorporating a Māori world view during the project, including participating in meetings with the general advisory group, preparing and presenting a conceptual framework draft, and contributing to the developing content of the proposals."
The Ministry described Gannin Ormsby as a "founding member" of Para Kore - a "Māori waste movement", and said he has "wide experience in the waste sector".
Para Kore's website states that "early conversations that started the Para Kore journey were initiated by Waikato Regional Council staffers" including Gannin Ormsby, "who wanted to help marae with waste minimisation."
Gannin Ormsby's Linkedin page notes he was employed in "iwi relationships" at the Waikato Regional Council from 2005 to 2015. The Companies Register shows he formed Ka Awatea in June, 2019.
Nanaia Mahuta is a Māori minister currently responsible for the Foreign Affairs and Local Government portfolios; she is also Associate Minister for Māori Development. Mahuta was Associate Minister for the Environment and Minister for Māori Development from 2017 until early November, 2020.
When questioned, her spokesperson said, "the Minister ensures that no conflict exists or appears to exist between her personal interests and portfolio responsibilities, in accordance with the guidance in the Cabinet Manual."
The Cabinet Manual states that it "may not be appropriate for Ministers to participate in decision-making on matters affecting family members, whānau, or close associates" it gives the examples: "attempting to intercede on their behalf on some official matter; proposing family members for appointments; or participating in decisions that will affect the financial position of a family member."
Buckle said that ministers had "no involvement in the selection process, nature and scope of the rōpū contracts. It's important to note Hon Nanaia Mahuta had no involvement in the waste work programme. The personal relationships between the Ormsby family members and Minister Mahuta were disclosed from the beginning."
Buckle also said the Ministry "took the necessary measures to manage conflict-of-interest risk. The Ministry made sure contract rates were set within a standard market range."
Waimirirangi Ormsby was also appointed to the Technical Working Group on a plan for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DWG) which produced the controversial He Puapua report for the Government in 2019 (the report recommended much greater power-sharing between the Crown and Māori over the coming decades).
He Puapua was supplied by DWG chair Dr Claire Charters to Minister Mahuta as chair of the Cabinet Māori/Crown Relations Committee in November, 2019. Mahuta was also Minister for Māori Development at the time.
Minister Mahuta's office directed questions about the appointments to the "agencies responsible for those appointments".
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Māori Development advised that the department could not meet the Herald's Thursday deadline for questions concerning the appointment process for the DWG.
Minister Mahuta is also in charge of the contentious water reforms planned by the Government.
The Government aims to force, through legislation, the consolidation of local council waste, storm and drinking water assets into four new water entities; controversially, the plan will weaken local ratepayers' control of the assets, and strengthen the control of iwi groups.
There are three levels of governance anticipated to sit between iwi groups and local councils and the new water entities. Among the plan's provocative provisions is the stipulation (delineated in Cabinet papers) that the appointees to these levels of administration, including the boards that directly govern the new entities, will require expertise in Māori principles and Māori knowledge.
Critics, including the Act and National Parties which oppose the water reforms, say that prioritised skills should be in funding, building and managing water infrastructure projects.
Tipa Mahuta, sister of Nanaia Mahuta, is also a powerful political figure and active in the area of water governance.
In early 2021, official documents show that responsibility for appointments to the Māori advisory group to Taumata Arowai (the newly formed drinking water regulator) passed temporarily, for the period February to June, from Nanaia Mahuta as Minister for Local Government to her colleague Kelvin Davis. The purpose was to mitigate a potential conflict of interest related to whānau.
In May, 2021, Davis appointed Tipa Mahuta chair of the Taumata Arowai Māori advisory group. She is also a Waikato Regional Councillor, co-chair of the Waikato River Authority, and co-chair of the Māori Health Authority.