Wellington-based Solicitor General David Collins QC spent more than $700 in a single day hiring ministerial BMW limousines to transport him to the "teapot tapes" High Court hearing in Auckland late last year.
The limousine bill was revealed in December quarter public sector chief executive expense data released this week which also showed Te Puni Kokiri chief executive Leith Comer spent $1000 in taxpayer funds to fly his wife to a Rugby World Cup-related fashion show and another event late last year, money which he yesterday decided to repay.
Mr Collins' non credit card expenses included more than $700 in charges for "VIP transport" in Auckland and Wellington on November 22. The charges appeared to be for trips to and from the airports in both cities and were in addition to return airfares.
A spokeswoman for Mr Collins confirmed the charges were from the Department of Internal Affairs for the use of BMW Crown limousines.
She said while entitled to use them, Mr Collins generally avoided using the limousines because of the expense and used taxis. However, she said given the sensitivity of the case he was attending and the fact he was likely to discuss it by phone during the journeys to and from Wellington and Auckland airports, he believed it prudent to use the Crown limousines.
During the hearing cameraman Bradley Ambrose sought a declaration on whether the conversation between Prime Minister John Key and Act's Epsom candidate John Banks he recorded during the two men's pre-election "cup of tea" was private or not.
She said the $527 charge for VIP transport in Auckland was likely boosted because the limousine had to wait outside the court for him and may have had to travel a considerable distance to meet him at the airport.
Meanwhile, after initially defending expenditure of over $1000 on flights for his wife so she could accompany him to the Style Pasifika event during the Rugby World Cup final week and the Maori Sports Awards a month later, TPK boss Mr Comer said he would repay the money.
In his role as head of the Maori Development Agency, Mr Comer, who receives a salary of $400,000, said he was often required to travel and represent either Te Puni Kokiri or Minister of Maori Affairs Pita Sharples.
"On the two occasions I have disclosed in my expenses, which are the only two occasions in the last six months, these were events that Te Puni Kokiri has been associated with over the years. These are events that we help sponsor. These are events that we make awards to recipients at, and these are events where I have the opportunity and am requested to host a table."
Mr Comer said State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie largely left it to public sector bosses to use their discretion in deciding what constituted appropriate spending.
"In my own judgment on these two occasions I believe it was appropriate."
But State Services Minister Jonathan Coleman disagreed.
"On the face of it I'd have to say I have some concerns about that.
"I've called in the State Services Commissioner and told him that I want him to take it up with Mr Comer."
"It's for Mr Comer to explain how he would justify this spending at a time when TPK are looking at redundancies.
Te Puni Kokiri is reportedly considering redundancies as it grapples with a shortfall in its budget.
Dr Coleman said he expected Mr Rennie would seek a full explanation from Mr Comer and make his expectations clear.
After Mr Rennie had spoken to him, Mr Comer released a statement in which he said he would reimburse the money.
Nov 21, appearing Auckland High Court, airfare - Wellington/Auckland return. $714.24
Nov 22, appearing Auckland High Court, taxi from office to airport. $35.60
Nov 22, appearing Auckland High Court, VIP transport Auckland Airport to High Court and Return. $526.95.
Nov 22, Appearing Auckland High Court, VIP Transport Wellington Airport to home. $204.82