Prime Minister orders DPMC investigation into Alfred Ngaro's decisions
An investigation into Alfred Ngaro's funding decisions was ordered by the Prime Minister, following his warning to organisations receiving Government funding not to disagree with Government policy.
The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) found Ngaro - the newly appointed Associate Social Housing minister - had not been involved in any funding decisions, Prime Minister Bill English confirmed.
He dished out a heavy public reprimand to the rookie minister, who reportedly told a National Party conference in Auckland at the weekend, that Labour list candidate Willie Jackson could lose Government support for his charter school if he criticised National on the campaign trail.
"I've made it clear to him that in the first case, some of his comments are wrong - particularly around partnerships schools, because ministers aren't involved in the decisions about which schools are in partnership schools.
"I've asked DPMC to look at that - he hasn't been involved in any funding decisions, so I'm not concerned about it."
The investigation, which sought to confirm no political interference was made in any funding decisions Ngaro might have been involved in, is an embarrassing black mark against a minister who has been warranted for less than six months.
English moved to assuage concerns from NGO's, giving an assurance they had "no reason" to feel as though Ngaro's comments were reflective of the Government's attitude when negotiating agreements.
"They've always been free to say what they want about Government policy, we're always working with organisations who disagree with some aspect of Government policy or disagree completely with the Government. We're pretty relaxed about it."
There would always be "differences of view" between the Government and some groups, but there was no constraint on them "expressing political opinions of any sort, and they regularly do."
He put Ngaro's comments down "partly to a lack of experience", but stood by his decision to promote the second-term MP to Cabinet late last year.
English would not be drawn on whether he held concerns Ngaro's comments were reflective of the way he was operating.
"He's a minister actually, who has built up a good connection and quite a bit of trust with the voluntary sector in his recent activities with social housing.
"There is no indication that he has made decisions or actually done things, that I think would be inconsistent with how the Government deals with these organisations."
Asked if Ngaro was wrong when he quoted English as once saying the Salvation army "manufactured the homelessness crisis", the Prime Minister did not rule out making the comments.
"I can't remember exactly the detail of all of the things that have been said. As Finance Minister, I took it upon myself to keep in touch with a whole range of the groups that Government works with, including the churches with whom we have regular meetings, and the Salvation Army," he said.
"I'd prefer not to go into detail of the conversations I've had with individuals in that manner, all I can say is the Salvation Army has a role, which I think the public's used to.
"That is to draw attention to where they think there is need. And I'd have to say they've engaged constructively for a number of years now, on upgrading services around housing - whether it's social housing or emergency housing."
Asked if he held the view currently, that the Salvation Army was the "architect" of the homelessness crisis , English drew a veil.
"The core issue is are there people having real difficulties finding housing; the answer to that is yes, that's why we're spending $300 million creating 8000 emergency housing places."
Ngaro had already apologised to certain groups, including the Salvation Army and his Cabinet colleagues. English said Ngaro did not offer his resignation.
"When ministers move into the social sector as ministers, they need to be ready, willing and able to take criticism every day from organisations that they're dealing with.
"Because there's always more need you can meet, and there's always differences of opinion over how to meet it."