Immigration manager approved illegitimate payouts - MP

Last updated 18:35 05/08/2008

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An Immigration Service boss gave himself a $400 gift and approved expenses to an employee who was not entitled to them, Parliament was told today.

The pair was responsible for approving thousands of dollars of expenses to a woman later convicted of defrauding the service, MPs were told.

National Party immigration spokesman Lockwood Smith made the latest allegations about the service's troubled Pacific Division while questioning Immigration Minister Clayton Cosgrove.

Dr Smith said group manager of international services Kerupi Tavita authorised a $400 gift to himself. He also approved expenses for Pacific Division director Mai Malaulau even though "the $1000 a day contract he had given her" explicitly ruled them out.

Dr Smith then asked about claims approved by Mr Tavita and Ms Malaulau.

"Is it correct convicted fraudster Pelesa Visesio-Skelton testified that her boss Mr Kerupi Tavita never questioned her fraudulent claims, including overseas travel expenses, accommodation at luxury hotels, hiring rental cars, not to mention a flat screen TV and DVD player; and why wouldn't any responsible senior manager question the need for his assistant to buy herself a flatscreen TV and DVD player at the department's expense?"

Mr Cosgrove said executive assistant Visesio-Skelton's $30,000 fraud had been uncovered by the department which had called police.

She was convicted last year for offending during 2005-06 and served six months home detention and is paying money back.

"The matters the member discloses are indeed less than appropriate professional management. Of course when people sign off accounts they should indeed check those."

Mr Cosgrove said Labour Department chief executive Christopher Blake has assured him that proper processes were being put in place.

"The chief executive has assured me that he, as part of the Pacific (Division) review, is looking at those various processes to ensure they are strict, professional and appropriate."

Mr Cosgrove said any new allegations should be referred to the police or one of the three other investigations by the Auditor-General, the Labour Department and State Services Commission.

Those inquiries already under way followed a string of controversial revelations at the service which started in April when it was revealed that Mary Anne Thompson, when she was head of the service, helped three of relatives in Kiribati apply for residence permits. They were approved in dubious circumstances.

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Police are looking into allegations about Ms Thompson's qualifications after doubts were raised about a doctorate she claimed to hold from the London School of Economics. Ms Thompson resigned.

In Parliament, Dr Smith repeated concerns over the appropriateness of Ms Thompson, who set up the Pacific Division in 2005, in hiring Mr Tavita who she was friends with.

He also said when Mr Tavita previously worked for Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet he failed to pass on significant information he had about Taito Phillip Field, who has since been charged with a variety of offences.

Dr Smith also questioned the appropriateness of Mr Tavita appointing Ms Malaulau when they had been involved the same private company, Pacific Edge International.

Mr Cosgrove said conflict of interest concerns were dealt with in a Buddle Findlay report which found no wrong-doing in the hiring process.

But it also found it would have been prudent for Mr Tavita to have played a lesser or no role in the hiring.


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