Auditor-General finds Ihumātao deal was ‘unlawful’

The Auditor-General has confirmed the Labour Government unlawfully used millions of taxpayer dollars to settle the Ihumātao land dispute.

In response to a letter from National’s Housing spokesperson Nicola Willis, written in March, the Auditor-General has confirmed today that the $30 million deal to buy the disputed land from Fletchers was not done by the book.

“The Auditor-General’s report uncovers extremely dodgy behaviour from Labour Government Ministers as they tried to justify this spending,” Ms Willis says.

The Auditor-General’s inquiries have revealed that after Treasury officials refused to let the Government use money from the Land for Housing programme to make the Ihumātao payment, Ministers invented a completely new spending category: ‘Te Puke Tāpapatanga a Hape (Ihumātao)’ within Vote Housing and Urban Development in the Budget.

“They did this on February 9 but tried to keep it secret,” Ms Willis says. “The Auditor-General raised serious concerns about the way this was done, saying ‘the payment of $29.9 million was incurred without the proper authority’.

According to the Auditor-General, the Ministry did not seek the correct approvals for money in the Budget to be used in this way, making the payment unlawful until validated by Parliament as part of an Appropriation (Confirmation and Validation) Act, Ms Willis says.

“This is a disgraceful abuse of the law. Ministers are not a law unto themselves with authority to write cheques whenever they wish. They need to get the approval of Parliament first.

“But when it came to Ihumātao, the Labour Government decided the usual rules need not apply.”

The Auditor-General says the Housing Minister will now be required to explain the matter to the House of Representatives and seek validation of the expenditure from Parliament through legislation.

National’s Finance spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says this is a shocking abuse of privilege and of taxpayer funds by the Labour Government.

“We warned the Government all along that its treatment of the dispute was leading to awkward precedents, and here is the proof.

“Taxpayers aren’t a bank to be called upon to clean up the Government’s poor decisions, particularly when it is meddling in private property rights.

“The Prime Minister should never have involved herself in the Ihumātao dispute and stopped 480 much-needed houses from being built.

“National would protect the land owner’s property rights and ensure full and final treaty settlements are just that – full and final.”

You can read the response letter from the Auditor General here.