Ministry chief's flying visits
Taxpayers are stumping up for Pacific Island Affairs boss Pauline Winter to travel between Wellington and Auckland most weekends.
Winter has a home in Westmere, but her $240,000-a-year job is based in the capital.
Her expense records show that over the last year she flew between the two cities almost every weekend. Between July 2013 and 2014, her expenditure totalled more than $30,000, most of which went on airfares, taxis and rental car hire in Wellington and Auckland.
However, State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie insists that Winter does not commute and that she has a residence in Wellington.
"I expect the chief executive to travel regularly between MPIA's offices in Wellington and Auckland and to attend meetings and events with the Pacific Island community . . .
"I am assured by Ms Winter that all her travel expenses are for legitimate purposes related to the core business of the ministry and are in accordance with MPIA's policies and processes."
The ministry is also paying for private secretary Luc Shorter to commute between Auckland and Wellington, and is footing his accommodation bill.
His Twitter profile says he lives on Waiheke Island and insiders say he is billeted at serviced apartments on The Terrace, costing around $1800 a month.
Shorter, executive director Kevin Sua Thomsen and regional manager Paul Stowers were hired by Winter last year without the roles being advertised.
Winter has refused requests to be interviewed and the ministry would provide only written statements. One said: "The ministry pays and/or reimburses all travel expenses for travelling staff. This includes flights and accommodation expenses. This is not pertaining to specific roles - this is a ministry policy for all staff."
In a further statement, Winter wrote: "There has been no inappropriate spending by myself or the ministry. All my expenses are publicly declared and posted on the ministry's website.
"My travel spending is appropriate and is entirely related to the core business of the ministry. My travel programme is planned against the ministry's work programme to assist with keeping the costs as low as possible."
She said the ministry was going through a "change process" and that a "process of business as usual and consultation" required regular travel between Auckland, where the majority of Pacific Islanders are based, and Wellington.
Records show Winter is sole owner of a house in Westmere, a co-owner of a Tauranga property, and also co-owns property in Manukau with Labour MP Louisa Wall and Prudence Tamatekapua.
Winter is still listed on the title for the property in Manukau, owned by the Tu Wahine Trust, as she was formerly a trustee.
Spending between July 2013 and July 2014:
Taxis – $5987.24 (around 80 of which were listed as airport transfers)
Airfares – $17,059.53 (between Auckland and Wellington)
Car rental – $3103.82 (on 10 occasions, over six months, she used a hire car in Auckland over weekends. The bill came to $2273)
Her total travel expenses: $30,124.88.