Te Puni Kokiri chief executive Leith Comer's is to reimburse $1000 in taxpayer funds he spent to fly his wife to a Rugby World Cup-related fashion show and another event late last year after State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie spoke to him about the matter today.

Mr Comer this afternoon released a statement this afternoon in which he said he would reimburse the money.

"Mr Comer is very mindful that any expenses he incurred are subject to public scrutiny. He is constantly applying a critical eye to expenditure that is incurred for all ministry business especially his own.

"The chief executive says while he believes there was justification for the travel to be paid for by TPK at the time, he now accepts that it was not good use of taxpayer funding and rather than go through a protracted debate on the matter he will reimburse the amount involved."


Public sector chief executive expense information for the December quarter shows $416 was spent on return airfares for Mr Comer's wife so she could join him in Auckland during the closing stages of the Rugby World Cup in Auckland in late October and attend the Style Pasifika event sponsored by the department.

The event was promoted as "Rugby meets the world of fashion, music, technology and dance in two incredible nights of distinctly New Zealand entertainment" during the week of the Rugby World Cup Final.

A month later $598 was spent on air travel allow Mr Comer's wife to attend the Maori Sports Awards in Auckland, another Te Puni Kokiri sponsored event, in early December.

While Mr Comer has early today defended the flights for his wife as an "appropriate" use of funds, State Services Minister Jonathan Coleman questioned that given the financial pressures on Te Puni Kokiri and other government agencies.

"I've called in the State Services Commissioner 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.

"On the face of it I'd have to say I have some concerns about that."

Te Puni Kokiri is reportedly considering 50 redundancies as it grapples with a $5 million shortfall in funding.


Dr Coleman said he expected Mr Rennie would seek a full explanation from Mr Comer and make his expectations clear.

"There needs to be a message about judgement in a time of fiscal restraint."

Earlier today Mr Comer told the Herald it was right and proper that his and other public sector bosses' expenses were open to media and public scrutiny.

However, in his role as head of the Maori development agency, Mr Comer said he was often required to travel and represent either Te Puni Kokiri or Minister of Maori Affairs Pita Sharples.

"On occasions I have taken my wife to events, particularly in Wellington, because we live in Wellington and there is no cost.

"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.

"The guests at these tables are generally senior Maori leaders and their wives or ministers and their wives and on those occasions I believe it is appropriate to have my wife there in an official capacity to assist me with the hosting duties."

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 judgement on these two occasions I believe it was appropriate."

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples said in the Maori world it was expected that hosts' spouses were present at formal events.

However, who should pay for spouses to be present at such events was "the big question".