The Health Ministry awarded almost $1.7 million in contracts to a former staffer last year.
Documents released under the Official Information Act show the company set up by former ministry staffer Debbie Ryan won contracts totalling $1,698,930 in 2011-12. They mostly related to Pacific Island health and leadership and career development.
Dr Ryan said she left the ministry several years ago for family reasons and all contracts awarded to her company were publicly tendered. "The work that I did at the Ministry of Health was going on four years ago now. And I run a policy consultancy and, the same as many other policy consultancies. I don't just do work at the Ministry of Health, I also do work in other agencies."
Her consultancy worked in a "boutique area" where there was a small expertise base, she said.
"The tendering process speaks for itself and the fact that we hold contracts across a number of other ministries for which I have never worked." She would not say what the other agencies were.
The Dominion Post also asked for the total amount spent on external contractors and the number of them who were ex-Health Ministry employees. Both requests were denied by the ministry.
In a letter, Deputy Director-General of Health Barbara Phillips said the four contracts awarded to Dr Ryan's Pacific Perspectives Trust were subject to "open procurement process, including a formal evaluation panel".
Ms Phillips said another ministry employee, who left to work for Pacific Perspectives, was not involved in decisions regarding the awarding of consultancy work after she accepted the new position.
"Contracts are awarded by the ministry following a robust procurement process involving a number of senior staff, many of whom will be completely independent from the contract being awarded."
Former director-general Step hen McKernan left the ministry in 2010 and established Health Partners Consulting Group.
Last year, the group won a joint bid to provide implementation support to organisations seeking to build Whanau Ora centres and integrated family health centres.
The group has also been awarded other ministry contracts, including work with several district health boards, its website shows.
The Health Ministry refused to comment further on the matter, but a spokesman did say it was not normal for people to leave and later be awarded contracts for similar work.
It was revealed last month that former Foreign Affairs staffers received uncontested contracts worth tens of thousands of dollars from the Foreign Affairs and Trade's Ministry's $8.4m spend on external consultants and contractors in the 2011-12 financial year.
- The Dominion Post
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