Rugby World Cup hospitality blowout

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 09:42 29/05/2012
British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Reuters
DAVID CAMERON: The British Prime Minister didn't come.
Britain's Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
Getty Images
PRINCE WILLIAM: A rugby fan, but didn't follow England's fortunes from the stands.

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The Government blew out a $10 million budget to host VIPs at the Rugby World Cup - even though just a handful of foreign leaders attended.

Promised dignitaries Prince William, British Prime Minister David Cameron and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy were a no-show at last year's tournament, but the cash-strapped government managed to overspend by $5m.

Taxpayers picked up the bill for limousines, security, booze, food and hotels for the visiting VIPs.

In last year's Budget $9.95m was set aside in a special fund to ensure they had a good time at the tournament. However, documents released this week reveal the final total was $15m.

Rugby World Cup minister Murray McCully's office said on Friday the total bill was $3.45m. But his press secretary Stephanie McKay has refused to answer questions about the discrepancy. This morning she said: "We are still looking into the numbers."

Documents also show:

-  $6m was shifted from Foreign Affairs budget to pay for the botched handling of the Queen's Wharf fan zone.

- An extra $2m was also spent on hosting the Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland, taking the cost from $4.9m to $6.9m.

- The ministry has set aside an extra $2m in this year's Budget for consultants fees, taking the spend to $9.5m.

Green Party overseas aid development spokesman Jan Logie noted that the while the VIP spend had gone up, overseas development assistance was slashed by $133 million from its Overseas budget.

"All of us loved the Rugby World Cup, I'm certainly not going to say that we shouldn't have spent money on hospitality for that. But $10m had been budgeted and they spent $15m while they are making cuts to overseas development in the Pacific. It's hard not to find that comparison offensive."

Oxfam executive director Barry Coates this week slammed the government for cutting the aid budget. He said it meant New Zealand falls behind many of its OECD peers.

Mfat is cutting 79 jobs and will close the Swedish embassy in a bid to save $24m.

An initial proposal which contained hundreds of job losses prompted a backlash.

In August McCully promised there would be "some heavy hitters in town" for both the Pacific Islands Forum and the tournament.

Labour foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff said the government could find money from the department for a fan zone but not save the jobs of 79 people likely to be made redundant in restructuring plans.

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"National has secretly taken money out of Foreign Affairs to pay for their poor planning of opening night at the Rugby World Cup," he said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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