The former head of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) has apologised for the misuse of taxpayers’ money spent on a fancy farewell when he left his position and for a welcome event at his new one.
Leauanae Laulu Mac Leauanae, who is now the chief executive at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage (MCH), was on leave before his farewell from the MPP, and had no hand in the decisions for the event.
But he should have questioned the MPP paying for the travel costs for his family members and guests for the welcome - expenditure that he authorised in part but later failed to recall.
And as the former chief executive, he held overall responsibility for the MPP’s expenditure.
“I apologise for what happened on my watch. It should not have happened,” he said.
His apology follows a damning review by Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes about the $40,000 farewell from MPP and the $12,500 welcome to the MCH - the welcome costs were shared by the two ministries - which breached several policies and failed the “moderate and conservative” standards of the public service.
“I accept the findings of the Commission’s review,” Leauanae added. “The Public Service Commission was right to call it out.”
Leauanae was also given several farewell gifts, including expensive tapa cloths and small carvings, but when he found out their $7500 price he returned them and repaid the money.
The welcome event for becoming the Secretary for Culture and Heritage also included $5000 in inappropriate spending by MPP to cover travel costs - including $3000 for six members of Leauanae’s family.
The MCH’s spend of $7558.70 on the welcome - almost half of which was spent on “cultural advice” - was appropriate, Hughes said yesterday.
“This is a case of one agency getting it wrong. The Ministry for Pacific Peoples’ expenditure on the farewell and the welcome was an inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money.”
Pacific Peoples Minister Barbara Edmonds has now stepped in, giving the MPP the hard word around her expectations for the prudent use of funds.
The spending happened before Edmonds became minister, and she said it wouldn’t happen again.
“It’s disappointing this has happened. Like all ministers, I expect agencies to spend taxpayer dollars prudently,” Edmonds said.
“Since becoming the Minister for Pacific Peoples, I have made my expectations around financial controls and practices clear. Senior leadership at the ministry has since changed and I have confidence in the new chief executive [Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone] to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Hughes’ report said that spending money for a farewell wasn’t wrong in itself, nor is there a specific limit on how much should be spent, but in general it needed to be “reasonable, defensible and modest”.
In this case, proper processes weren’t followed, no spending cap or agreed budget was identified, and there was limited monitoring or oversight of the spending.
“An example of this was catering for the event based on the number of expected guests rather than the number of guests who had accepted the invitation, resulting in significant over-catering and unnecessary cost,” the report said.
The farewell included $7143.64 for travel and accommodation for 12 guests - Pasifika community leaders from the Pacific nations represented by MPP. Just over $3000 was spent on photography, flowers and ceremonial drummers.
To welcome Leauanae as Secretary for Culture and Heritage, the MCH spent $2000 on catering, $525 on flowers, and $3550.50 on “cultural advice” to ensure tikanga Maori and Samoan ritual protocols could be observed - which Hughes said was appropriate.
“This was the first time a hybrid powhiri was proposed in recognition of, and respect for, tangata whenua as well as the incoming secretary’s genealogy, heritage and traditions. The cultural advice was delivered in person and involved MCH staff, Pacific community elders and mana whenua discussions over several meetings (in person and via Zoom).”
MPP spent almost $5000 on the welcome event, mainly for travel and accommodation for eight guests of Leauanae including six family members.
But again, no budget was set and there was no upfront discussion about the proper approach to the funding.
Leauanae tried not to be involved in organising the welcome, he told the review, and he intended to pay for his guests’ travel costs.
“However, during the process of coordinating the welcome, he understood that MPP signalled it would cover these costs. He did not question this and acknowledges he should have done so,” the report said.
He has since reimbursed MPP $4115.38 for the cost of flights of all family members and guests.
The report said it may have been appropriate to cover some travel costs for guests.
“However, MPP failed to properly consider or discuss the approach to such expenditure and the circumstances where it might be appropriate. As a result, the review cannot be satisfied that this expenditure was appropriate.”
If the costs had been authorised by the right person - the chief financial officer - they would have been identified as “sensitive”.
As such, this spending was not properly authorised, and neither was the spending of $1611.60 for the travel and accommodation for two of Leauanae’s non-family guests. Records indicated that this spending was authorised by Leauanae himself, though he “cannot specifically recall approving any expenditure for the welcome”.
Hughes said: “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. 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.”
He added: “New Zealanders expect their tax dollars to be used responsibly and appropriately.”
Derek Cheng is a senior journalist who started at the Herald in 2004. He has worked several stints in the press gallery and is a former deputy political editor.