By Vernon Small



political reporter


Christine Rankin, chief executive of Work and Income New Zealand, has retained her $250,000-a-year job - but could come under renewed pressure to resign if Labour wins power in four months.



A State Services Commission report has censured Mrs Rankin over $165,000 in spending on charter flights to a Wairakei training course, and some of her $37,500 performance bonus will be docked.



"Money has been central to this matter, and it will cost Mrs Rankin money," the State Services Commissioner, Michael Wintringham, said yesterday.

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But he stopped short of blaming anyone for over-spending on the flights.



Labour's social welfare spokesman, Steve Maharey, said Mrs Rankin should resign.



He said it would be "difficult" for Labour to work with her if it won power at this year's general election, but stopped short of saying he would not be able to work with her.



Green Party co-leader Rod Donald said the commission's report was a "classic slap over the wrist with a wet bus ticket" and Mrs Rankin should be sacked.



"At best she will lose a bonus which is worth more than most people earn in a year," he said.



Mr Wintringham found a lack of financial discipline in organising the Wairakei training event, which cost a total of $235,000.



He said Winz did not appear to understand what constituted acceptable spending of public money.



While Mrs Rankin was responsible as chief executive, blame for the over-spending would be dealt with in the Employment Court, he said.

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Mrs Rankin has said she was misled over the final cost of the charter flights by a senior manager whom she subsequently suspended.



The manager, Aneta Wineera, has denied the allegation. She has resigned and is suing Winz for constructive dismissal.



Mr Wintringham said he did not make any judgment on whether Mrs Rankin had been misled.



Mr Maharey said he was concerned that if an out-of-court settlement were made between Winz and Aneta Wineera, Mrs Rankin might be in a position to decide how much would be paid.



"Of course it is in her interest to ensure this doesn't get to court."



Mr Wintringham said debate over the Wairakei event had eroded Government and public confidence in the department.



It had reflected on every Government department and agency, and had overshadowed Government policy.



Mrs Rankin would report within two weeks on how she planned to rectify the department's shortcomings.



At a press conference, Mrs Rankin said she accepted Mr Wintringham's conclusion and censure, but she refused to answer questions.



Prime Minister Jenny Shipley said she was satisfied with the commission's actions and with a plan to reinforce appropriate standards for spending public money in the state sector.