Contract with consultant revealed as job cuts loom

Last updated 05:00 24/06/2011

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A private consultant awarded a $54,135 contract for two months' work says he was given the job because of "staffing gaps" at the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry.

The disclosure came as chief executive John Allen revealed the department aimed to "slim down" by 200 staff.

Charles Finny, a former diplomat who works with lobbyists Saunders Unsworth, was asked by Mr Allen to look at New Zealand's relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The contract was not put out to tender and his firm was paid for two months' work.

Mr Finny said at the time that the ministry was "under staffing pressures" and there was no-one to "do this kind of strategic thinking".

He was able to do the work quickly because of his expertise and experience. "I thought the [ministry] team welcomed the fact the work was being done because actually, they didn't really have anyone available ...

"There were huge staffing gaps in the area, which is one of the prob lems they were facing and had been for a year or so in that space, so I certainly didn't think I was displacing anyone."

It was not for him to comment on tendering of the contract. "I was just approached and asked to do the job."

Labour foreign affairs spokeswoman Maryan Street questioned Mr Allen and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully on the contract at yesterday's foreign affairs and trade select committee.

Mr Allen earlier told the committee the department will "slim down by about 200 people", saving between $30 million and $40m a year.

"Surely this funding is not your personal piggy bank to disperse to your 10 closest friends?" Ms Street asked Mr McCully. "How do you explain this expenditure? Is it customary, at a rate of $27,000 a month, for that work not to be tendered?"

Mr McCully said he did not have details. Mr Allen said Mr Finny "brings ... a deep understanding of the ministry, experience in the region and an external perspective – all of which, both the minister and I thought were useful".

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- The Dominion Post

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