Watch­dogs go back to Om­buds­man

The Northland Age - - Local News -

Bay of Is­lands Watch­dogs is ap­peal­ing to the Om­buds­man for a re­view of al­le­ga­tions of fi­nan­cial, con­trac­tual and busi­ness process ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties at the Far North District Coun­cil pounds.

“We first be­came con­cerned when we re­ceived in­for­ma­tion un­der the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Of­fi­cial In­for­ma­tion and Meet­ings Act from the coun­cil about the tem­po­rary pound at Horeke,” Watch­dogs co­or­di­na­tor Leonie Exel said.

“So we kept ask­ing ques­tions to find out what was hap­pen­ing, and to make sure coun­cil was spend­ing our money wisely.”

The coun­cil cur­rently op­er­ated a pound in Kaitaia, and planned to build a new one on that same site, she said, and for eight years had con­tracted pound ser­vices to Sue Den­nis in Okai­hau. That con­tract had ended in May 2017.

Early in 2017 the coun­cil be­gan build­ing an in­terim pound at Horeke, to ser­vice the south of the district un­til it could build an en­tirely new fa­cil­ity at Ngawha.

An on­line call for ten­ders for the con­struc­tion of that pound, and the new one in Kaitaia, had re­cently closed, the coun­cil say­ing that when it moved out of the tem­po­rary fa­cil­ity at Horeke it would take the ken­nels, cages, car­port, im­ple­ment stor­age shed and any other coun­cil-owned equip­ment to Ngawha. The con­crete pad, perime­ter fenc­ing, wa­ter tank, and sep­tic tank would re­main with the Horeke land owner.

Ms Exel said the Watch­dogs’ con­cerns re­gard­ing the Horeke pound included that:

To their knowl­edge, there was no pub­lic re­quest or ad­ver­tise­ment for a site.

An un­doc­u­mented, sub­stan­tive con­flict of in­ter­est ex­isted be­tween a rel­e­vant se­nior coun­cil staff mem­ber and the land owner.

Build­ing work be­gan at Horeke some time be­tween March and May 2017, at least nine months be­fore any agree­ment was signed be­tween the coun­cil and land owner. The coun­cil had said it spent $131,967.58 on the tem­po­rary pound in the 2017/8 fi­nan­cial year. The Watch­dogs had asked for a break­down of that spend­ing but had not re­ceived it.

Nine months be­fore

the

agree­ment was signed, a coun­cil man­ager ad­vised the coun­cil that a 12-month agree­ment had been ne­go­ti­ated for the sit­ing of the tem­po­rary pound on a farm, sug­gest­ing that an agree­ment ex­isted when in fact it did not.

When a for­mal agree­ment was signed in March 2018, it was ap­plied ret­ro­spec­tively for the pe­riod June 1, 2017, to May 31, 2018. It then ex­pired, with no new agree­ment hav­ing been signed as of Novem­ber 2018.

The coun­cil did not al­low pub­lic ac­cess to the Horeke pound, so there could be no pub­lic over­sight.

The Watch­dogs were also con­cerned that the coun­cil was about to spend more than $1 mil­lion of ratepayer money on the con­struc­tion of two new pounds.

“All we want is to en­sure that the FNDC acts legally, pro­fes­sion­ally, and in ac­cor­dance with sound busi­ness prac­tices,” Ms Exel said.

“Au­dit New Zealand first raised con­cerns about project man­age­ment at the FNDC in 2016, and rec­om­mended in­de­pen­dent as­sur­ance over sig­nif­i­cant projects. It would be a re­lief to the com­mu­nity if this was pro­vided for the tem­po­rary and new pound projects.

“And there was no pub­lic ad­ver­tis­ing for a project man­ager; a con­sul­tant was simply ap­pointed,” she added.

BOI Watch­dogs had been ad­vised that the gen­eral man­ager — district ser­vices, who had over­all re­spon­si­bil­ity for an­i­mal man­age­ment, has not vis­ited ei­ther the Horeke or the Kaitaia pounds this calendar year. The coun­cil stated that the next most se­nior man­ager had vis­ited sev­eral times this year, but there was no doc­u­men­ta­tion to sub­stan­ti­ate that.

PIC­TURE / FILE

The FNDC re­sponded to crit­i­cism last year in part by giv­ing im­pounded dogs new beds, but BOI Watch­dogs is now ask­ing more se­ri­ous ques­tions.

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