Woods must act on Kāinga Ora cover up

The Housing Minister must act to restore confidence in Kāinga Ora after a Public Service Commission investigation concluded that the agency repeatedly failed to meet the standards expected of a public service agency, National’s Housing spokesperson Nicola Willis says.

“The release of this report by Peter Hughes responds to concerns I raised last year about Kāinga Ora’s use of public money to promote a Labour Party candidate and the subsequent cover-up.

“I revealed this conduct following my discovery of a $25,000 per month contract Kāinga Ora entered into with a media entity through which it promoted itself through paid content designed to look like news stories.

“The investigation by the PSC confirms my grave concerns, stating these events ‘demonstrated a misunderstanding of the principle of political neutrality at all levels within the organisation’, with their response to the airing of these issues showing a ‘pattern of minimisation’ and was below the standards expected of a public service agency.

The Public Service Commissioner found, among other things, that:

  • Kāinga Ora’s actions had the ‘effect of providing positive publicity for a political candidate, just before and during an election period’.
  • Kāinga Ora failed to acknowledge their mistake, instead ‘maintaining a position that minimised the issues and contained some factual errors’.

“I am astonished that despite this damning report, no one at Kāinga Ora has been held accountable for its failure to meet its duties as a custodian of taxpayer money.

“Kāinga Ora is a key public service agency, having more than doubled in size since Labour came to power, with 2560 employees and an annual operating revenue of $1.7 billion.

“It will be of serious concern to all taxpayers that despite these massive responsibilities Kāinga Ora failed to meet standards of political neutrality, and then when these failings were revealed did not front up but instead sought to cover up.

“Minister Woods must explain why she continues to have confidence in the leadership of Kāinga Ora when not one person has been held accountable for these extraordinary failings.

“Kāinga Ora’s response to this investigation has been extremely weak and amounts to little more than the formation of a government relations team (within the government agency) and an offer from the PSC to hold the hand of executives on future issues.

“New Zealanders deserve much better from an agency that employs more than a dozen people on salaries in excess of $300,000 a year.

“The standard you walk by is the standard you accept. Minister Woods must not walk past this report. She must act.”