Wellington City Council boss: 'the paper trail is the contract'
Wellington City Council boss Kevin Lavery is defending the lack of paperwork behind a major subsidy for Singapore Airlines, claiming "that's the way any contract goes".
Councillors in the capital have called for much tighter limits on Lavery's discretionary spending powers after it emerged a 10-year subsidy worth up to $800,000 a year was completed with almost nothing committed to paper.
After almost three days refusing interviews, Lavery wrote to councillors defending the deal, which began with the first flight to Wellington via Canberra on September 21.
"The "paper trail" is the contract itself," Lavery said.
Later he claimed government agencies often signed contracts without other documentation.
"That's the way any contract goes. You get in rooms and have discussions. Then you write it up, that's the way it works."
Lavery initially claimed that he had received a six-page report on the funding request written by "my staff", before acknowledging that the report was actually written by Wellington Airport which had "different interests" to the council.
The council commissioned no work of its own to review the airport's claims, but could have, Lavery said.
"We could have done that, if we'd felt uncomfortable with it. But we didn't, so we didn't. And that's not uncommon."
He denied councils would usually take time to make a decision of the type at issue, saying Wellington wanted to be able to act quickly.
"We're trying to be go ahead and can-do."
The amount at issue was a "relatively modest delegation" Lavery said, adding that he had the power to allocate much larger amounts on sewerage schemes.
His comments came shortly after the auditor-general confirmed it had been asked by a member of the public to investigate the subsidy. Staff will consider the request before deciding whether to investigate.
Despite Lavery's protests, he appears destined to have a much lower level of discretion over the $1.8 million a year Destination Wellington fund, from which the subsidy will come.
Mayoral candidate Justin Lester said if elected he would recommend the discretionary limit be cut to $100,000 before a council vote was required, while rival Nick Leggett said the current level should be reviewed.
Leggett said while he supported the concept of the council investing to stimulate the economy, it was important that the public could have confidence in the process.
"If we can't demonstrate that there was rigour and a decent case put together to justify the deal then the council is open to criticism that this was not robust spending of ratepayer money."
Lester believed the decision to subsidise the route was a good one, but called on Lavery to release further information.
"I haven't seen enough information yet" to be satisfied the process had been robust. "I think there should have been more paperwork."