The Government might yet regret setting a debt collector onto Sir Ian Taylor. Last month the Dunedin businessman got an email, then a text and a phone call from a debt agency saying he owed $821.44 for his self-organised home isolation trial after returning from the US in November last year.
Taylor, who owns sports graphics company Animation Research, thought he was running his 151 Off The Bench trial alongside the Government's official trial of 150 business people to show how it could be done, using state-of-the art technology and good planning.
But no, the Government thought otherwise. Taylor was part of the 150 trial - which turned out to be only 76 people - so pay up, the debt collector said. Taylor's first response was, "Gosh, sorry, I thought that had already been paid".
That was until he had a chance to ponder the matter a little further, as Taylor tends to do. What exactly was he paying for, he wondered, remembering the comedy of errors during the trial which a fellow businessman described as "like Fawlty Towers". It was worth a good laugh, Taylor reckoned, but not $821.44.
So this week Taylor wrote a "please explain" letter to the debt collector, copying in the Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall, who will no doubt both sigh deeply. They are well used to Taylor not staying in his box.
Was Taylor paying for the three saliva tests he was required to take in self isolation, for which results never turned up, he asked? He couldn't help pointing out in his letter that "despite the contract for $60 million being awarded to a Canadian company the saliva tests have never eventuated".
What happened to that contract, that $60m, he asked? A New Zealand-owned company Rako Science was rejected for the same contract, gave saliva tests to him during his 10-day isolation and delivered the results the same day, he said. Just saying.
Or did the $821.44 cover the cost of the shuttle van that picked him up to take him for a PCR test on his final day? That bit worked but what about the three emails he received - an hour after he'd had the test, the next day and three days later - asking him to explain why he hadn't gone for his PCR test and saying he would have to stay in isolation until he did so?
Why, he asked Robertson and Verrall, was he told to turn up for a PCR test at 2.04am with no instructions on how to get there? As an aside Taylor says in his letter a colleague drove himself to have a test after receiving a 2.08am notification and was later reprimanded for breaking the rules.
He hadn't been much bother to Government departments during his self-managed isolation trial, he pointed out.
"The Cross Sector Border Group organised my accommodation, meals, a range of Covid tests that were delivered throughout the trial period and a real-time heath monitoring system overseen by (John) Doc Mayhew. The MBIE equivalent was a pdf emailed each morning that actually didn't arrive on one of the days."
And did the $821.44 also cover the app that was meant to link his location to a phone call that didn't work three times on the first day?
"Instead I had someone in a uniform turn up holding a phone in his hand just as I was about to go to bed asking me to talk to the person on the other end to assure them I was standing in front of the man holding the phone!"
To be fair the app did work the next day, he said.
"But we were running technology that could have given MBIE my position every two minutes. We offered it but the offer was declined.
"If you could kindly clarify for me exactly what this invoice actually covers (please do not include any administration or planning as that was woefully lacking) and when you think I might finally receive the results of the $60m Canadian saliva test, I will happily reconsider this payment," Taylor said in his letter.
"My calculation, if you were going to charge anything, would be two PCR tests and transport from the airport as well as transport to the testing facility - which I did take even though MBIE seemed to struggle to find any record of me taking the test at the time."
Taylor apologised for the delay in responding to the invoice, saying he'd been "fairly busy" lately working with private businesses dealing to issues around MIQ, rapid antigen testing, Lamp testing, as well as helping with 65 million orders for RATs for the Government through Kudu Spectrum.
"I have also been involved in helping with the supply chain for the RATs that will now be going on sale at Foodstuffs - at cost. Not to mention the delivery of 2000 Lucira tests and 30,000 RAT tests - for free - into Tonga."
When he got the message from the debt collector he even wondered if the Government had made a mistake and had lost his payment.
"They managed to lose $36m of MIQ invoices so I just figured this was another mistake," he laughed.
Taylor said he ran his self-isolation plan with the 151 team to help the Government develop a safe plan for business people desperately needing to get in and out of the country. Although he visited two clients when he was in the US, the conversations could have been done over the phone.
"There was no business advantage."
His vision was that if he proved the self-isolation plan worked and was safe, New Zealanders would have been able to travel for business from December last year. But that never happened. From Taylor's point of view, he thinks he's being quite reasonable about the debt.
"I will pay the bill once I know what I'm paying for, given that I'm still waiting for the results of the three saliva tests."
• Since this story appeared, Sir Ian Taylor's accountant has informed him that the account for $821.44 was paid in full last month. Taylor has written to Grant Robertson and Ayesha Verall to say that he is no longer in debt.