A health board boss took two international work trips while on sick leave, used public money for personal jaunts, did not declare hospitality, booked travel without approval and tried to cover up the breaches, an Audit NZ investigation found.
Former Waikato District Health Board chief executive Dr Nigel Murray circumvented DHB policy to use taxpayer money for personal spending, according to auditors in the damning draft report released today by a board member.
Murray resigned in October amid the expenses scandal, which ended an independent inquiry by the DHB into his three years of expenses, but the Audit NZ probe continued.
The release of the report follows months of Herald revelations about Murray's activity during his $560,000-a-year job, including that he spent more than half his final year out of the office on overseas and domestic trips.
In a copy of the Audit NZ report obtained by the Herald, it showed that the business reason for travel was often missing from documentation, he had no proof he attended events he said he was going to, or the purpose for travel was retrospectively completed.
International trips in the past financial year did not explain why each trip was required and on domestic trips extra nights were booked, including into weekends, without explanation.
There were two international trips that, when corroborated with Murray's diary, showed he was on sick leave at the same time.
Two trips to Australia were made within five days.
"There was no explanation as to the rationale of the two trips," auditors said in their report.
"It raises questions of value for money."
Auditors found indications that hospitality was potentially offered on some international trips but not declared by Murray.
Many of Murray's hotel rooms cost more than $250 a night and although the DHB's staff travel and accommodation policy stated "room plus breakfast" only, there were three bookings where "full chargeback" or "chargeback meals" was applied.
In one instance, an international leg of a long-haul flight was booked as "business class", despite the policy stating all long-haul flights should be limited to premium economy.
There were also items in one accommodation invoice "not considered in line with policy" but the report did not specify what the items were.
A number of travel request forms were completed retrospectively, some "significantly after the event".
Other travel bookings were initiated by Murray himself, instead of through the travel co-ordinator – his executive assistant.
One travel request was approved by the chief financial officer who did not have delegated authority to do so. Only board chairman Bob Simcock can authorise the chief executive's travel.
A number of instances of travel were never approved, and for some there was evidence the approval was provided "some time after the booking was made to enable the State Services Commission returns to be compiled".
Murray wasted money on last-minute cancellations or amended bookings, and some complex travel requests that resulted in significant costs provided no evidence to support the business need. It's also unclear if some of the amendments were approved.
Auditors said some international trips appeared to be driven by a particular scheduled meeting and that the DHB should have considered video conferences instead.
Murray, whose travel was booked using a $330,000 credit limit, even took out travel insurance on some trips but auditors said this was unnecessary because of a DHB-wide policy preventing the need for individual insurance.
Murray, who went to ground after his resignation, did not co-operate with the investigation and the DHB could not provide some of the documentation sought.
And there were discrepancies in some of the information initially provided by the DHB and what was later released on its website on November 3.
Board member Dave Macpherson released the report today.
"I'm giving this because it's public information and it's been withheld for too long. There may be consequences for me on the board but I'm going to live with that because it's more important that the public is informed."
The report made a series of recommendations to tighten procedures including that:
• The business purpose for travel is clearly defined in travel requests;
• Supporting documentation such as meeting agendas are provided;
• The DHB reinforces and reminds staff it does not pay for any expenses relating to personal travel or accommodation;
• Consideration be given to controls to prevent policy override;
• Consider implementing a DHB-wide threshold for accommodation costs;
• And the person with the appropriate authority only approves requests.