A lavish event including gifts to farewell the boss at the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) last year failed to meet the “moderate and conservative” standards of the public service, a review has found.
Nor was a near-$5000 spend appropriate for a welcome event for Leauanae Laulu Mac Leauanae - including $3000 in travel costs for six members of his family - as he moved from head of MPP to the head of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage (MCH).
“This is a case of one agency getting it wrong,” Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes said today.
“Taken together, the Ministry for Pacific Peoples’ expenditure on the farewell and the welcome was an inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money. When a mistake is made, I expect public service chief executives to own it, fix it, learn from it, and to be accountable.”
Hughes decided to review the budget for the event, for which Leauanae was not involved in the planning, after the ministry provided him with the costs following an Official Information Act request about them.
A fono, held in Wellington on October 13 and 14 last year, was attended by 118 people including staff from the Auckland and Christchurch offices, aimed at reconnecting the team and looking ahead to the following year.
It was then decided to include a farewell after Leauanae, Secretary for Pacific Peoples at the time, was appointed as Secretary for Culture and Heritage - effective October 17.
MPP spent $39,262.22 on the farewell, including $7500 on gifts for him - understood to include carvings and fine mats - and $3000 on “discretionary items” including photography, flowers and ceremonial drummers.
Hughes said even though Leauanae was not involved in the decision-making for the farewell, he held overall responsibility for spending at the ministry as the chief executive.
Leauanae has since repaid the $7500 and returned all the gifts.
“The expenditure for the farewell did not meet the requirement of being moderate and conservative. There was inadequate oversight of expenditure and there was no agreed budget for the event,” Hughes said.
The review found that the spending decisions were inconsistent with the ministry’s policy on hospitality, gifts and entertainment, its business expenditure policy, and the Public Service Commission’s standards on chief executive gifts, benefits and expenses.
Leauanae was then welcomed as head of the MCH at an event where $4919.47 was spent on travel for one staff member, formal guests, and six of his family members.
This spending would have been identified as “sensitive ... with a real or perceived benefit to Mr Leauanae”, said Hughes’ review, if the proper internal processes were followed.
Leauanae has since reimbursed MPP $4115.38 for travel costs associated with all family members and guests.
“Mr Leauanae owned his part. When he became aware of the matter, he immediately repaid the money spent on gifts in full and returned all cultural gifts to MPP,” Hughes said.
“He also repaid the money spent on travel for his family and a guest who did not have a formal role in the welcome. That is appropriate and I thank Mr Leauanae for putting the matter right at the first opportunity.”
Act leader David Seymour, who had lodged a parliamentary written question about the farewell which was due to be answered by today, wants the MPP gone.
”The Ministry for Pacific Peoples also ballooned its staffing from 34 FTEs in 2016/17 to 128 in 2021/22,” he said.
“The ministry spent the second most per FTE on catering of any ministry in 2020/21, spending over $1400 per staff member.
”Pacific communities in New Zealand have thriving cultures, and are more than capable of sustaining their cultures and languages without a dedicated government ministry.”
Hughes reminded chief executives of his expectations, saying farewells and welcomes can be held in culturally acceptable ways and still align with guidance on sensitive expenditure.
“New Zealanders expect their tax dollars to be used responsibly and appropriately.”
Derek Cheng is a senior journalist for the Herald and a former Deputy Political Editor, whose stints in the Press Gallery in Parliament covered parts of the Helen Clark, John Key, and Jacinda Ardern governments.