Auditor-general backs Sky City report

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 15:56 27/03/2013

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The auditor-general has refused to back the Government's claims that its actions were vindicated in a report on a decision to select SkyCity as preferred bidder for a convention centre.

Appearing before the finance and expenditure select committee, deputy Auditor-General Phillippa Smith said the report had established deficiencies in process on the part of both ministers and officials.

When the report was released, the Government claimed it vindicated its own actions.

Asked directly if this was the case, Smith said the report spoke for itself.

''That fact that [the report] took 50 or 60 pages suggests that nothing was entirely clear cut. We have said that we found problems with the process that was adopted and so I think the report speaks for itself.''

Her investigation, released in February found no evidence that ''inappropriate considerations'' such as political connections played a part in the decision to choose to negotiate with SkyCity, and that shoddy process probably did not affect the outcome.

However, it criticised meetings between Beehive staff and SkyCity which took place when senior ministers had already agreed to seek expressions of interest from the market.

It also revealed an information imbalance, with SkyCity explicitly told that the Government wanted to invest no cash in the building of the convention centre, and that it may be offered regulatory relief, something not shared with other bidders.

Yesterday Smith said the SkyCity deal, along with another report on the conduct or former Associate Immigration Minister Shane Jones, demonstrated the importance of transparency and proper process in public affairs.

''In the public sector ... processes not only have to be right, they've to be seen to be right and when they're not that creates the environment where allegations of bad practice and worse can flourish.''

Today Prime Minister John Key maintained that the auditor-general's report vindicated the Government.

''The assertion that was made by the Green Party and the Labour Party was that there was A, a shonky deal, and B, I was intimately involved and my actions were inappropriate,'' he said.

''All of which was covered in phase one of the auditor-general's report, for which she said absolutely, the totally correct process was followed.''

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the report had showed the process was not even-handed, and asked if businesses seeking government contracts would want things to be done this way.

Smith said she expected they would not, which related to trust in government.

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''That you know when your turn comes, whichever government institution you're dealing with will treat you fairly, transparently and without favouritism.''

- Stuff

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