The Herald can reveal Christopher Finlayson's scathing complaint to the Auditor-General over Wellington's central library, in which he claims city councillors were presented with a "Hobson's Choice".
The former National MP and Attorney-General made the complaint in December. He raised concerns about the procurement process for earthquake-strengthening work.
The complaint claims a new engineering technology called viscous dampers could save ratepayers $65 million.
But nine months on, Auditor-General John Ryan is yet to respond. This has clearly irked Finlayson, along with a profile piece of Ryan published by the Herald earlier this week.
"I read with wry amusement an article in the Herald about how he is sort of a zealous hound dog," Finlayson told the Herald.
"Because my experience of his office would indicate that he is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel."
A spokesperson for the Office of the Auditor-General said they received a large number of requests for inquiries, which often related to serious concerns involving the use of public resources.
"We carefully examine every matter raised with us. Our inquiry work requires us to engage a number of times with public organisations and review considerable volumes of material."
The spokesperson said how long the work took depended on its nature and other work being carried out over the same period.
The library, Te Matapihi ki te Ao Nui, has been closed since it was deemed an earthquake risk in March 2019.
Wellington City councillors have agreed to strengthen the building with base isolators, which is expected to cost $187.4 million.
But in his complaint, Finlayson said leading Wellington engineering firms had recommended strengthening the library with viscous dampers instead.
He claimed the viscous dampers option was not presented to councillors, who were instead given three costly options, which he said was effectively a "Hobson's Choice".
The lack of an open procurement process for the structural work meant other options had no chance to be considered, he said.
"I have a great interest in this project because the building was designed by the late Sir Ian Athfield for whom I had enormous respect and whom I appointed to the board of Heritage NZ when I was Minister of Culture," he said.
Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said the council remained satisfied its procurement approach was appropriate.
The council has been co-operating with the Auditor General's office over the complaint, MacLean said.
Finlayson claimed council officers told elected members viscous dampers were not viable, at the time they were voting to proceed with base isolators.
This was despite an email being sent from engineers strongly advocating for the viscous dampers solution ahead of the vote, he said.
When councillors raised concerns six months later, officers finally engaged engineering firm Beca on the viscous dampers issue.
But Finlayson said an ensuing review process was "flimsy" because council officers insisted on a comparison with the base isolation option as the benchmark.
"Yet again, the officers were pre-determined."
He said they should have used a "what's best for project and ratepayer" approach from the outset.
Finlayson said Beca's report was independently reviewed and supported by a world- leading seismic engineer, but another independent review sought by the council concluded there were no advantage.
"Officers appear to have made no attempt to understand why there is such a gulf between the conclusions of a small Christchurch engineering firm that does not appear to have experience in complex viscous damper strengthening projects and the independently reviewed work of one of New Zealand's leading structural engineering firms who assert that the use of viscous dampers could save ratepayers $65m," he said.
Beca buildings group director Mark Spencer said the firm was unable to comment.
A director of the Christchurch firm said they were also unable to comment on the specifics of the project due to confidentiality requirements.