An organisation that recently won a million-dollar government contract has dismissed speculation that the presence of the Prime Minister's wife on the board was a factor.
The Ministry of Health announced LeVa as the "new, preferred supplier" for national suicide prevention training in March this year, ending a 10-year contract with Lifeline.
The switch, reported by the Herald yesterday, prompted advocates who work in the mental health sector to note that Dr Mary English, a GP in Wellington, was on LeVa's board.
However, LeVa chief executive Dr Monique Faleafa told the Herald this morning that the new programme was an evidence-based international approach and English had not even read the proposal yet.
"We won this through merit. We didn't win this through friends," Faleafa said.
It is understood English has been on the LeVa board for at least two years.
For the past decade, Lifeline has held the contract to train frontline workers such as counsellors, teachers and nurses on how to identify those at-risk of suicide.
The funding - $285,000 a year - was cut on March 31, after several contractors pitched to the ministry for the work.
Prime Minister Bill English was unaware of the contract - or who it had been awarded to -
until it was reported yesterday, a spokeswoman from his office said.
"He and other ministers had no involvement in that decision, as it was made by an independent evaluation panel," the spokeswoman said.
The panel evaluated all of the bids during the tender process and selected LeVa as the preferred supplier, a ministry official told the Herald on Monday.
The new contract has been increased to $560,000 a year - a funding boost that covers almost the entire amount Lifeline had been receiving annually to run its programme for the past decade.
Glenda Schnell, executive director of Lifeline, said she was "totally surprised" to not only hear that Mary English was on the board of LeVa, but that the contract had increased by $250,000 a year.
"Wow. Those things I did not know," Schnell said when contacted by the Herald this morning. "I am surprised and disappointed to learn that."
The Herald requested comment from Mary English earlier this morning.
Jill Lane, director of service commissioning at the Ministry of Health, said the ministry follows "robust, open and contestable tender processes when doing due diligence on tenders and awarding contracts".
"We followed this rigid process to identify a service provider to deliver a national suicide prevention training programme," she said.
An independent evaluation panel - made up of people selected from ministries, agencies and consumers - analysed 11 proposals and recommended LeVa as the preferred provider.
The ministry accepted the panel's recommendation, Lane said.
When asked if Mary English's position on the board affected the tender process or funding increase for the contract in any way, Lane replied: "No, it did not."
Regardless of Lifeline's "devastating" funding cut, Schnell said she wanted to work alongside LeVa to help in the suicide prevention training arena because "this is about the community; that is what's important".