Government minister Nanaia Mahuta put her young relative Waimirirangi Ormsby on a list of candidates for a paid appointment to the working group that produced the He Puapua report, documents released to the Herald under the provisions of the OIA indicate.
A briefing document prepared by Te Puni Kōkiri (the Ministry of Maori Development) in 2019 states that early in the process of choosing appointees for the working group, Mahuta, then Māori Development Minister, identified potential candidates to her officials.
It also illuminates an appointment process whereby Mahuta selected the candidates to take to the Cabinet's Appointments and Honours Committee for formal agreement.
Mahuta declared her conflict of interest in the appointment of Waimirirangi Ormsby (nee Koopu-Stone) to the Cabinet Committee, which was chaired by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. But the appointment remains contentious for several reasons.
Mahuta recently suggested to the media that decision-making for the appointments was made by officials. It's also controversial because the Cabinet Manual - which guides Government Ministers in matters of conflict of interest including the appearance of a conflict - recommends, though the language is not absolute, that where a minister has a conflict of interest and also has ministerial responsibility, mitigation should go farther than a simple declaration of interest.
Last month, Mahuta told reporters that questions about the appointment of Waimirirangi Ormsby should be directed to the department: "That's a matter for Te Puni Kōkiri, there were a number of names that were put up in relation to, I think, the working group you're referring to, and that was last term. Yeah, so there were a number of names with a number of requisite skills and a number of considerations but the point at which I saw that, by recollection, was at the point where a shortlist was made and those decisions were made by the department."
The briefing document of May 28, 2019, prepared for Mahuta, stated: "We ask that you consider the range of potential appointees, and select a total of five individuals, who you wish to put forward for appointment. When you have selected the individuals you wish to appoint, the next stage of the process is for us to confirm their availability and willingness to be appointed."
It appears that a long-list of names was attached to the briefing but was redacted. The briefing also noted: "you have previously identified a number of potential appointees you would like to consider".
Last week, Mahuta declined to answer questions about the discrepancy between her comments and the briefing.
A spokesperson said "there's nothing further to add to previous comments to [the] NZ Herald on this question."
In June, Mahuta's spokesperson told the Herald: "in relation to the appointment to the UNDRIP Technical Working Group, the individual was not considered to be a close family member. Regardless, the minister identified the perception for [sic] a conflict of interest and declared it to her colleagues."
The appointment document Mahuta brought to the Appointment and Honours Committee of the Cabinet was also released under the OIA.
The conflict of interest disclosure stated: "One of the candidates I intend to appoint is related to me by marriage. Waimirirangi Koopu-Stone is married to my husband's nephew [Tamoko Ormsby]. This creates a perception of a possible interest that I consider needs to be declared.
"In practice, however, there is no significant interest, and any potential interest is already mitigated by the role, functions and operational structure that will govern the operation of the Technical Working Group. The existing mitigations are:
"Waimirirangi will be one of nine members, and as such will not have any ability to sway the advice of the Technical Working Group. The role and function of the Technical Working Group is to provide me with advice. The Group has no role beyond advisory. Any views I may form as a result of the advice I receive must also be agreed to by the Cabinet."
The disclosure goes on to say that Ormsby brought an impressive level of expertise considering her youth and noted she had been involved in a "number of UN sessions, has expertise in social change and engagement tools, is committed to the kaupapa of indigenous rights, and brings a much-needed rangatahi [young person] perspective to the Technical Working Group."
The Cabinet Manual is enforced by the Prime Minister. The manual says that declaring conflicts is generally sufficient in cases where a minister has no ministerial responsibility.
However, it notes that it "may not be appropriate for ministers to participate in decision-making on matters affecting family members, whānau, or close associates, for example, by ... proposing family members for appointments."
In such situations, it suggests transferring responsibility to another minister: "a minister with a conflict of interest concerning a particular issue within his or her portfolio may, with the agreement of the Prime Minister, transfer responsibility for that issue to another minister. In this case, the minister with the conflict of interest should instruct officials to ensure that departmental briefings and papers on the issue are directed to the other minister."
Act Party leader David Seymour has said that Mahuta was in "clear breach of the Cabinet Manual, overseeing the appointment of her niece to a paid position for which she [Mahuta] had ministerial responsibility."
There were five non-government members appointed to the working group; they were paid a total of $44,094.80. Te Puni Kōkiri declined to break the sum down by individual payment.
Waimirirangi Ormsby married Tamoko Ormsby in April, 2019. In December of the following year she was made a director of the consultancy Ka Awatea Services, owned by Gannin Ormsby, Nanaia Mahuta's husband.
The company won contracts with four government agencies, worth some $237,000 (excluding GST), in late 2020 and early 2021; these currently form part of a Public Service Commission probe into the conflict of interest processes followed by public servants in their procurement processes.