The Government has shelled out more than $150,000 to consultants to provide advice regarding the Ihumātao land dispute, with some being paid up to $325 an hour.
Despite the significant price tag, the public is still none the wiser as to what is happening when it comes to the disputed land, as the Government has stayed tight-lipped around any new developments.
Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) co-founder Pania Newton said the fee was eye-wateringly high and could have been avoided altogether if Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had personally met with those affected at the Ihumātao site in Auckland.
National leader Judith Collins, however, said the Government should have never got involved in the dispute and taxpayers are now "picking up the tab".
Repeated attempts by the Herald for information on the dispute – via the Official Information Act – have been knocked back.
But recently released records show that the department which oversees the spending of the Prime Minister and her Cabinet spent $155,000 on consultants, tasked with providing advice in regards the Ihumātao situation.
The consultants who were providing the advice were paid up to $325 an hour.
Rimu Road Consulting Limited – run by former MBIE chief executive David Smol – was paid $86,316 to "provide advice, information/liaison services related to Ihumātao".
That contract began on October 1 last year and ran until July 31 this year. The documents say the contract "may be extended".
The maximum hourly rate of the Rimu Road contract is listed at $325 an hour.
Hingston Mill Limited, another consultancy firm, was paid $68,174 to provide advisory and liaison services related to Ihumātao – its contract was also from November 1 last year but only ran until late April this year.
And, like Rimu Road, Hingston's contract may also be extended.
Despite the money paid to the consultants, Newton said neither she nor anyone at SOUL had been approached by the Government-hired firms.
As of yet, the Government has made no decisions when it comes to Ihumātao.
Collins said there has been "deafening silence" from the Government since the start of the Ihumātao saga.
"The decision should have been an easy one for the Prime Minister; she had no right to get involved in this dispute in the first place. Now hard-working taxpayers are picking up the tab."
When approached for comment, a spokesman for Ardern said: "The Government continues to focus on supporting a resolution that respects all parties including the Crown, mana whenua and Fletchers."
And a spokeswoman for DPMC said the contracted services "provided for liaison between the parties involved and advice to help identify a way forward at Ihumātao".
The contracts enabled the engagement of specialists at the most senior levels to work with Māori on these complex matters, the spokeswoman said.
In July last year, Ardern announced that any building work which was scheduled to take place on the land by Fletchers – which purchased the property in 2016 – would be halted until the dispute was resolved.
Groups, such as SOUL, want the land returned back to iwi.
Since Ardern's announcement, however, the Government has been tight-lipped on what progress had been made.
It is understood former coalition partners NZ First held up progress.
But without that party around the Cabinet table, expectations are high that the next steps will be announced soon.
Attempts by the Herald to uncover any information on the matter have been knocked back by Government officials.
An OIA to the Prime Minister's office revealed that Fletchers sent a letter to Ardern on May 7, 2019.
But Ardern's Chief of Staff Raj Nahna declined to provide that letter as it might "prejudice or disadvantage negotiations".
The Herald got a similar stonewalling in response to OIAs to Finance Minister Grant Robertson's office.