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