Kāinga Ora: The Labour Party candidate, the taxpayer-paid ad, and the cover-up

The Minister of Housing must act to ensure high standards of political neutrality and integrity can be met by Government housing agency Kāinga Ora, following the release of documents suggesting a troubling culture has taken root at the agency, says National’s Housing Spokesperson Nicola Willis. 

“Documents released to me under the Official Information Act show that just months before last years election, Kāinga Ora secretly commissioned, paid for and arranged publication of ‘advertorial’ material about Labour Party figure Arena Williams, and on finding out about her impending candidacy senior public servants agreed to ‘proceed as though we didn’t know’.

“Earlier this year I revealed Kāinga Ora had a half-million dollar deal with NZME to post favourable articles on OneRoof.co.nz. As part of that deal, an article was commissioned by Kāinga Ora, and published by NZME, regarding Arena Williams. The article was published three days before Ms Williams was confirmed as Labour’s candidate in Manurewa.

“Documents I have now obtained prove that a senior official who knew Ms Williams arranged the story. She informed her senior colleagues that Ms Williams was seeking Labour Party candidacy and Kāinga Ora decided to proceed with the advertisement regardless.

“What’s worse, those working for Kāinga Ora actively decided to hide the fact of Ms William’s candidacy, with various statements in emails confirming this:

“we could proceed as though we didn’t know about the impending announcement.” (14 May 2020)

“we can just act as though we don’t know anything!” (15 May 2020)

“please do remove mention of her Labour candidacy from this – it keeps Kāinga Ora’s powder dry too” (19 May 2020)

“while it’s technically safe to publish now, removing the last para does keep us in the safe neutral space, especially as most people won’t know about these rules” (19 May 2020)

“These actions by senior public servants show a flagrant disregard for the proper use of taxpayer funds and the need for public agencies to consistently act with integrity and in the public interest.

“I am gravely concerned about the culture at Kāinga Ora. New Zealanders have a right to expect that the Government housing arm will focus its time and money on getting houses built – not promoting Labour Party candidates.

“Public servants must act in accordance with the Public Service Commission Standards of Integrity & Conduct which requires they act with honesty, and maintain the political neutrality required to enable them to work with current and future governments. These responsibilities go to the core of our democracy.  

“The Minister of Housing, Megan Woods, is answerable to the public for the performance of Kāinga Ora. She has let this multi-billion dollar organisation get so emboldened that it thinks this is acceptable behaviour. It is not. Kāinga Ora must be brought back under control.

“The Minister must explain what she will do assure New Zealanders that Kāinga Ora has been held accountable for this sorry episode and that senior leaders at the agency understand their responsibility to act in deference to the public they serve, not the politicians they prefer.”