National MP Jami-Lee Ross has used Parliamentary privilege to claim an audit has uncovered "unauthorised and excessive" use of hundreds of thousands of dollars at Counties-Manukau District Health Board.
Speaking under the legal protection afforded by parliamentary privilege, Ross said he had information about an internal audit of the DHB which showed "identified remuneration and benefits paid to a senior DHB executive which were either unauthorised, excessive or unjustified, and multiple areas where that executive exceeded their delegated financial authority. The word 'fraudulent' also appears in the report".
Ross also questioned whether Health Minister David Clark's decision to remove two board members from the DHB was related to the audit - something Clark has denied.
And he questioned whether Acting Director of Health Stephen McKernan was involved in dealing with the issue, given he had been chief executive of the DHB until 2006 and was referenced in the audit.
Services State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said he would "urgently" look into the questions Ross had raised in Parliament and decide whether any action was needed.
"The questions raised cannot be left hanging. I will look at them myself. I will do this urgently. And I will form a view as to any actions I consider necessary to take to resolve them."
McKernan has been approached for comment through the Ministry of Health.
Ross said David Clark was told of the audit in January and a review was commissioned by a forensic accounting firm. That review was presented to the Ministry of Health and a summary of it sent to Clark in March.
Ross questioned whether that had anything to do with the minister's decision to remove Rabin Rabindran and Mark Darrow from the DHB in April.
In a statement, Clark said the decision to remove the two board members was unrelated but would not comment further on the issues raised by Ross.
"My decision to refresh the leadership of the Counties Manukau DHB was completely unrelated to the matters Jami-Lee Ross raised in the House. He is drawing an incredibly long bow."
In Parliament, Ross said those two board members were involved in raising concerns about the issues identified in the audit with the State Services Commission and Ministry of Health in mid-2017.
"They investigated it, sought an independent audit, pushed for a ministry-led review and then got sacked from that board as soon as the review was completed."
Ross said although those board members were told it was to 'rejuvenate' the board, they were the two newest board members and had not yet been replaced.
Rabindran left the board in the midst of controversy about leaky buildings at Middlemore, and Ross has claimed Clark tried to stop Rabindran speaking publicly about it.
McKernan left the DHB in 2006 when he was appointed Director General of Health under former health minister Tony Ryall. He ended his time in that role in 2010.
McKernan was appointed as acting Director-General of Health to replace Chai Chuah in December 2017 and has decades of experience in senior roles in the health sector.
In its report on the audits of the DHBs released this week, the Auditor General's Office did not make specific mention of any spending issues at Counties-Manukau, but addressed a general need for DHBs to monitor "sensitive" expenditure such as expenses more carefully.
The Auditor General said care was needed.
"I encourage all staff, particularly those in senior positions, to take action – such as talking to their auditor or making use of protections provided by the Protected Disclosures Act 2000 – when they have concerns about financial mismanagement or misuse of funds in their organisations."