A government contract worth $72,299 including GST was awarded by the Crown housing agency to a company co-owned by Gannin Ormsby, the husband of Labour Minister Nanaia Mahuta, in a period when Mahuta had associate ministerial responsibility for housing.
Ormsby's consulting firm, Ka Awatea Services, was engaged in August, 2020 by Kāinga Ora to provide "specialist advice, support and resources" to facilitate six meetings (hui) and 14 workshops to engage with Māori and to provide a "high-level overview" of the agency's Auckland housing projects.
The agency said the meetings and workshops were delivered variously, online and in-person, and lasted roughly six hours apiece.
A spokesman for Kāinga Ora said the Ka Awatea work, "did not fall under the ministerial responsibilities of Minister Mahuta at the time as this was in relation to our urban development programme (which comes under the responsibilities of the Housing Minister)."
Mahuta was Associate Minister for Housing (Māori Housing) when the contract was awarded. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's schedule of delegated responsibilities for associate ministers for the period noted Mahuta's role included work that related to: "ensuring that housing for Māori whānau is appropriately catered for in Kāinga Ora - Homes and Communities initiatives … [and] procurement policies to enhance Māori community development."
Hinemoa Awatere, acting deputy chief executive - Māori at Kāinga Ora, said there was "no communication with ministers in respect of the selection process" for the Ka Awatea contract, and that "no conflicts of interest were identified at Kāinga Ora."
A spokesperson for Mahuta said: "The contract did not require ministerial approval so no conflict was raised."
Gannin Ormsby declined to comment.
Ka Awatea has been solely owned by Ormsby since late September, 2020. From early July, 2020 to September 26th of that year, the company was co-owned by Ormsby and parties related to Hamilton-based scrap metal dealer Global Metals Solutions.
Awatere said the contract was awarded to Ka Awatea on a "sole source basis" for reasons including that, "the services could only be supplied by one supplier and there was no reasonable alternative or substitute due to the facilitator from Ka Awatea having extensive iwi hui management experience which was critical for the engagement; Ka Awatea were able to commence immediately; some Kāinga Ora staff had worked with the facilitator in the past and they came highly recommended for this engagement."
The facilitator, named in Kāinga Ora documents, is (William) Rama Ormsby, a relation of Gannin Ormsby. Rama Ormsby was employed by the Auckland Council as an expert in tikanga (Māori customs and culture) until late 2019.
Awatere said the contract process followed standard government procedures.
In the process of awarding a similar, smaller contract, the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) identified a sole source contract with Ka Awatea (worth $25,000) as a "major appearance risk" in its procurement plan, documents released under the OIA show.
The department's procurement plan noted: "There is a major appearance risk due to the direct source procurement approach and the perceived conflict of interest that we have been discussing with the rōpū [group] from the outset: Gannin Ormsby is married to Hon Nanaia Mahuta. Nanaia Mahuta is not only an MP and Cabinet Minister, but also an Associate Minister for the Environment (but with no involvement in waste and resource efficiency matters)."
MfE consulted the Public Service Commission on the proposed contract with Gannin Ormsby.
The commission's view, notes show, was that "being the minister's husband should not preclude his [Gannin Ormsby's] involvement [in the MfE work], but that a conflict of interest is present".
"A robust management plan needs to be able to be put in place. Furthermore, perceptions need to be considered and addressed - of attempting to influence MfE and possibly of [the] minister's family having financial gain."
MfE put a risk mitigation plan in place, and its process is currently the subject of an internal review.
MfE documents note that department officials extrapolated the commission's thinking on Gannin Ormsby's contract to a second contract the department signed with consultancy Kawai Catalyst, owned by Tomoko and Waimirirangi Ormsby (who are married).
A history of Govt contracts
In October, 2020, the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) hired Ormsby, his nephew Tomoko Ormsby, and his niece by marriage Waimirirangi Ormsby, to a small group providing expert advice on Māori ways of thinking about waste. The contracts totalled $90,000: Ormsby's firm Ka Awatea was paid $25,000, and Waimirirangi and Tomoko Ormsby's consulting firm, Kawai Catalyst, was paid $65,000.
MfE documents said the Ormsbys' services were procured directly, without a tender process, because the work was urgent and the pool of candidates with expertise in Māori ways of thinking about waste was very shallow.
When questioned in May about the MfE contracts, a spokesperson for Mahuta 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."
Sam Buckle, deputy secretary of water policy and resource efficiency at the MfE, said in May that the department's steps taken to manage "conflict-of-interest risk" included "no ministerial involvement in the process of identifying rōpū members, deciding on the nature and scope of their contribution, or preparing their contracts"; "assurance members had the expertise we needed"; and "full disclosures of potential conflicts of interest in procurement documents".
Ka Awatea also received a grant of $28,000 from the Ministry of Maori Development's "suicide prevention" fund in April, 2021. Mahuta was then, and remains, Associate Minister for the department. Her ministerial responsibilities did not include the purview of the fund.
The Herald put questions to Mahuta about the grant in June. Relating to matters where she has ministerial responsibility, a spokesperson for her office said: "Where there have been conflicts they have been disclosed to the Cabinet Office. Where there have been conflicts, they are managed appropriately, in accordance with the Cabinet Manual."
In addition, the Department of Conservation engaged Ka Awatea Services in June, 2019, to "support and improve effective engagement with rangatahi [young people] that can enable the department's vision of Papatūānuku [the Earth] Thrives.
The details were supplied by Conservation Minister Poto Williams in response to the National Party's written parliamentary questions. The contract was still active and has paid a total of $11,800.00 excluding GST to date, Williams said this month.
In 2019, as Minister for Māori Development, Mahuta appointed Waimirirangi Ormsby (nee Koopu-Stone) to the group which produced the He Puapua report for her ministry.
Earlier this year, a spokesperson for Mahuta said, "the minister identified the perception for [sic] a conflict of interest and declared it to her colleagues."
Tipa Mahuta, the minister's sister, is also a powerful political figure and active in the area of water governance.
Official documents show that in early 2021 responsibility for appointments to the Māori advisory group to Taumata Arowai (the newly formed drinking water regulator) passed temporarily from Mahuta as Minister for Local Government to her colleague Kelvin Davis. In that period, Davis appointed Tipa Mahuta chair of the water regulator's advisory group.
Tipa is also a Waikato regional councillor, co-chair of the Waikato River Authority, and co-chair of the Māori Health Authority.
Opposition weighs in
Both the National and Act parties have criticised the Government's opaqueness in its handling of contracts awarded to Nanaia Mahuta's family.
The National Party spokesman for transport and public service, Simeon Brown, called on Mahuta to be transparent with the public about the government contracts that have been awarded to her family members.
Brown argued that there is "a pattern of contracts being given to Nanaia Mahuta's husband and family members [which] raises serious questions around conflict of interest, especially in the Kainga Ora case where Minister Mahuta clearly had responsibility for Māori Housing."
In Brown's view: "The public needs to know that an appropriate process was followed: Red flags should have been raised and questions asked about whether it [the contract with Gannin Ormsby] was appropriate given the minister's responsibility for Māori housing … questions should have been asked as to whether Mr Ormsby's company was the appropriate company to do this work."