Further Mfat uncontested contracts revealed

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 08:07 03/08/2012

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A change management company was awarded foreign affairs contracts worth almost $600,000 without any competitive tender.

The news comes after revelations former Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade staffers were being awarded tens of thousands of dollars in uncontested contracts.

In 2010, management consultants Harrington and Allen Associates was paid $291,492 to assist the ministry with project organisational development and human resources.

The contract was exempted from tender because of urgency, Mfat records show.

Then late last year, the company was awarded $251,100 to conduct cost/benefit analysis of procurement options.

This time the contract was not put out to competitive tender because the company had worked for the ministry previously.

Green Party MP Kennedy Graham questioned why a company would receive the contracts without a transparent tender process taking place.

''Has the Minister's recent cutback meant that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade no longer has officials able to provide advice on diplomatic matters, given it is paying external contractors hundreds of thousands of dollars for advice on diplomacy?''

Associate Foreign Affairs Minister Tim Groser said the Government would not end the use of uncontested contracts by Mfat because it would be ''extremely inefficient to do so''.

''It is a longstanding matter for the public service across many agencies to have uncontested contracts, particularly for contracts of $50,000 or less, so that it is not a complete bar to considering proposals above that figure.''

In the 2011/12 financial year, Mfat engaged 49 consultants through non-contested processes for a total cost of $2.98 million.

The previous year say 82 consultants at a cost of $5.06m.

NZ First MP Andrew Williams called for an end to uncontested contracts at the ministry.

''On the grounds that they are inconsistent with open, transparent, and merit-based contracting in the public sector.''

Public Service Association National Secretary Brenda Pilott said the consultant spending sent mixed messages to Mfat staff.

''This makes an absolute mockery of the government's austerity and efficiency drive and sends a very poor message to the entire public service.''

Particularly, she said, for Mfat staff who were going through an uncertain change period and job losses.

''The irony is that the Ministry now has to contract that expertise back and at a much higher price. It's a salutary lesson on what happens when you shed experienced people without thinking about the longer term implications.''

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