Probe launched into handling of contracts linked to Mahuta family

Nanaia Mahuta - file.

The Public Service Commissioner will be looking into how Government agencies managed conflict of interest issues with contracts awarded to a consultancy company that has family ties to Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

The consultancy company at the heart of the matter is Ka Awatea Services Ltd (KAS). Its owner Gannin Ormsby is married to Mahuta.

It comes after Mahuta herself, Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins and National MP Simeon Brown requested an investigation into the relationship between public service agencies and Ka Awatea Services.

Hipkins said he had "seen nothing to suggest that any minister has involved themselves in any of the contracts for services that have been identified".

"However, issues regarding agencies procurement and conflict of interest processes continue to be raised and needs to be resolved."

In a letter to Hipkins, Mahuta said she had been, "assiduous regarding declarations of potential conflicts and management of those potential conflicts".

"I would support this matter being raised with the Public Service Commissioner."

Mahuta told media she had been "concerned for some time that even though I have declared conflicts of interest and noted they have been managed in accordance of the Cabinet manual, these stories are still persisting".

"I raised my concerns with Minister Hipkins verbally on the 12th of this month and then wrote a letter."

Mahuta said in at least three of the Government departments it was, "evident there is an inconsistent approach to the way in which conflict of interest have been managed by them".

"That's why I am pleased the Public Service Commissioner is having a look at this."

Mahuta said she had no say in approving at contract level "any of the matters that have been raised in the public domain".

Brown wrote to Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes asking for an investigation into how Kāinga Ora and the Ministry for the Environment managed three contracts with KAS.

In his response to Brown, Hughes said he did not think it met the threshold for an inquiry, but agreed that the way the agencies managed the conflict of interest issues needed to be looked into.

"And I intend to do that.

"I intend to look into how these agencies managed perceived or actual conflicts of interests concerning KAS and its associated business enterprises."

He said since receiving letters from Brown, he received a letter from Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins, "also asking me to look into these matters" involving Kāinga Ora, Ministry for the Environment, DOC and Te Puni Kokiri.

"In addition to the four agencies identified above, the minister has also asked me to look across the broader Public Service to establish if any further agencies have contractual relationships with KAS and its related entities."

Hughes said there was currently no indication of any further instances of the same issue.

"I want to be sure all relevant matters have been identified to ensure prompt, complete resolution so this matter can be put to rest."

NZ Herald reported yesterday that Kāinga Ora was the third agency to review its processes after it didn't seek formal conflict of interest processes from Ka Awatea. It did however receive a verbal conflict of interest.

Ka Awatea has been approached for comment.