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New Zealand: Govt’s $4.8 million package for Pacific EDA questioned

PEDA's director of policy and programmes, Ulafala Aiavao. (Photo by Gladys Hartson.)

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Gladys Hartson.

Concerns have been raised amongst Pacific people regarding a $4.8 million contract awarded to a privately–owned Pacific Island company in this year’s Budget announcement.

Several Pacific island media outlets have asked how the Pacific Economic Development Agency (PEDA) will use the tax payer money, including breakfast host for Pacific Island radio station Radio 531pi, Yolande Ah Chong, who said: “Our listeners have concerns in terms of the process and how the funding was secured.”

(This report also includes an Editor’s Note regarding the Pacific Affairs Minister being questioned in Parliament over the PEDA targeted funds.)

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Pacific Scoop approached the PEDA seeking answers and discovered one of the directors, Ulafala Aiavao, acknowledged the concerns and agreed they are legitimate ones. He said it’s good that people are discussing the issues.

“We welcome the discussion. The more exposure we have in the media to discuss the issue the better informed people will be,” he added.

Surprise

The National-led Government’s allocation of $4.8 million to PEDA, announced by the Minister of Finance, took many Pacific people by surprise.

Radio 531pi’s Ah Chong said that “nobody in the wider Pacific community knew anything about this organisation… I still have a lot of questions for the Minister of Pacific island affairs, Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs and PEDA. They have not answered our concerns,” she added.

Aiavao said this process did not just happen overnight it has been a lengthy process that took place over the last few years.

Priority group

The company, based in Onehunga, started the consultation process with Government in 2007. In 2008, a conference was held to discuss a framework to look at the priorities of Pacific people in Aotearoa.

One of the findings from the discussion identified a group of youth aged 19-24 were falling through the gaps.

Aiavao said their target was the trade sector and up-skilling this group.

PEDA worked with a pilot programme called Trainsmart based in Waitakere. Aiavao said that “most of the funding will be directed to the up-skilling scheme, which will focus mainly on this niche group”.

“PEDA will work with partners to deliver – this was part of our proposal… There was a gap and the up-skilling will help to fill in for some of those in need,” he added.

Transparency

“The money will be spread out over the next four years. We have no plans to add another layer of bureaucracy. We understand people will be skeptical, however we will work closely with government agencies.”

Ah Chong said there are a number of quality Pacific island organisations working out there in the community: “It’s about being transparent in the process”.

Aiavao acknowledged that understanding the process is good: “progress is better,” he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Parliament sees minister questioned over Budget funds to PEDA

Concerns over how a private limited liability company became successful in acquiring $4.8 million of targeted Government funding has been raised in Parliament.

On June 3, during Parliament’s question time, Mangere Labour MP Su’a William Sio asked the Minister of Pacific Island Affairs: “Was there an open and transparent bidding process to ensure accountability for taxpayer funds before the decision was made to grant $4.8 million to the Pacific Economic Development Agency Ltd in Budget 2010; if not, why not?”

The minister Georgina Te HeuHeu answered: “The member is making an assumption that a contestable process was required. In this instance the Government decided to fund the Pacific Economic Development Agency for certain economic deliverables, and new money was appropriated in Budget 2010 for this purpose.”

The minister admitted that the Government did not construct a contestable apparatus to ensure the $4.8 million of targeted funds would go to the best possible provider. The Government’s move locked out other community-based organisations from being able to put a competitive case forward and tender to Government to provide the service.

In Parliament, Sio asked whether well known organisations were given the chance to tender. He listed these organisations as: Pacific Business Trust, the New Zealand Pacific Business Council, the Manukau Institute of Technology, the Auckland University of Technology, Best Pacific Institute of Education, and the Pasifika Education Centre.

Te HeuHeu replied: “Those are all excellent organisations and, yes, they are all in Auckland. But, as I said earlier, this was a Budget initiative. New money was appropriated specifically for the provision of services from the Pacific Economic Development Agency.”

So Sio asked what exactly was the service that PEDA would provide in return for $4.8 million of taxpayer money.

Te HeuHeu answered: “The Government is still to enter into negotiations for a purchase agreement with the Pacific Economic Development Agency, and all of those issues will be sorted out in good time.”

Her reply raises concerns. It appears very odd that the Government has allocated almost $5 million dollars to an organisation that it has yet to “to enter into negotiations for a purchase agreement”. It is also concerning that a transparent open contestable process has been abandoned.

The issue of accountability for tax payer’s funds rests with the Government. Pacific Scoop’s interviews with PEDA demonstrate a credible business led by dedicated businessmen. However, it appears the Government has yet to construct an appraisal framework at the front-end of this agreement, let alone a framework that tests progress made along the way, a measure of the real difference PEDA’s programme is having, or indeed what it means in real terms for the people it is targeting.

How can the public be assured that the minister is acting competently with regard to the PEDA package when she answers in such vague and cavalier terms to Parliament, such as: “all of those issues will be sorted out in good time”.

PEDA is based in Onehunga, within the Maungakiekie electorate. In 2008 Labour had this electorate wrestled off it by a strong business aligned Pacific candidate Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga who won the seat for National with a 1942 majority.

Labour’s questions in the Parliament were clearly designed to unearth whether there was a connection between PEDA and Lotu-Iiga and whether the National-led Government’s executive was swayed into looking after its stakeholder groups through a non-contestable route, while excluding providers Labour had confidence in.

In Parliament, Labour was unsuccessful in gaining clarity in this regard. What is apparent however, and again this is not a negative reflection on PEDA, is the National-led Government has failed to satisfy (as yet) that $4.8 million will be spent wisely on Pacific development programmes, or, in PEDA’s case, even to indicate what those programmes might be.

Gladys Hartson is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student at AUT University and is working with Pacific Media Watch.

1 comment:

  1. Tasi, 15. June 2010, 13:46

    Process is as important as progress. How are we to have faith in our tax payers money being used properly if process is not followed?