A ratepayer-funded $21,000 trip to Invercargill's sister city in Japan by four city councillors and two council staffers last week was a waste of money, a former city mayoral candidate said.
Cory Vreugdenhil's comments were about the "junket" to Kumagaya, in Japan, by Deputy Mayor Neil Boniface, councillors Darren Ludlow, Graham Sycamore and Lindsay Thomas, council communications manager Eirwen Tulett, council finance director Dean Johnston and Kumagaya Friendship Association president Tom Sawyer.
The Invercargill contingent was in Kumagaya for five days and met council, business, education and cultural representatives, the city council said yesterday after inquiries by The Southland Times.
When contacted for comment yesterday, Mr Vreugdenhil, a Greenhills farmer who unsuccessfully stood for the Invercargill mayoralty in 2007 and has been critical of councillors in recent months over massive rates hikes imposed on farmers living within the city boundary, said the Kumagaya trip was a "junket, and nothing more".
Most ratepayers would see nothing from the $21,000 spent on the trip and the council should have used technology such as video linkups to discuss issues with its Kumagaya colleagues, he said.
"If they want to go for a five-day holiday to Kumagaya they should pay their own way because I haven't seen any benefit to Invercargill from them going in the past."
But Mr Boniface said the Kumagaya visit would increase business opportunities between the two cities. Those increased business opportunities were "looking good" following the visit.
Invercargill enjoyed successful trade with Kumagaya in honey, vegetables, pastry products and car parts because of its sister city connection and the trip's aim had been to build on that solid base, he said. The trip was not a junket and using technology to discuss business and cultural issues with Kumagaya colleagues was unrealistic as Japanese people liked the personal touch, Mr Boniface said.
"I am not going to back down and say it's a waste of ratepayers money. It's a small amount to create some really good opportunities moving forward."
In February, several Kumagaya councillors visited Invercargill at a cost of $11,500 to Invercargill ratepayers.
- Day 1: Meetings with the Mayor of Kumagaya, chairman of the Kumagaya council, city councillors, Chamber of Commerce and Rissho University. Welcome function.
- Day 2: Meetings with Junior Chamber of Commerce, meeting with large Kumagaya company for introduction of Invercargill company wanting to begin business links, visit to Kumagaya Dome (sports stadium) and museum and shrine. Dinner hosted by the Kumagaya councillors.
- Day 3: Bus trip hosted by Kumagaya International Friendship Association.
- Day 4: Visit to Kumagaya City Library, Gyoda City Museum. A visit to a junior high school was cancelled because of the typhoon. Visit to public relations section (Eirwen Tulett). Homestay.
- Day 5: End homestay, begin travel home.
Source: Invercargill City Council
- © Fairfax NZ News
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