By Veronica Harrod
At least $1.5 million of unauthorised payments made by Council
Audit NZ and the Maori Land Court have both revealed evidence that Horowhenua District Council made at least $1.5 million of unauthorised and undocumented payments to preferred projects .
Audit New Zealand said there was no, “formal evidence of the existence” of $615,135 spent by the Council on the interior design of the nationally acclaimed Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom cultural and community centre in Foxton.
The Audit report for the year ended 30 June 2018 said, “The Council could not provide any supporting documentation, or signed contracts to corroborate the amounts recognised” as spent on interior design work.
The Dutch Connection Trust and Te Taitoa Maori o Te Awahou partnered with the Council in a “Dutch museum, library…Concept Plan for Foxton” first championed by Council in the 2008 Horowhenua Development Plan.
The project also received $500,000 from the Foxton Beach Freeholding Fund, held in trust by Council, and ratepayers continue to pay about $500,000 annually due to a short-fall in funding for the $8.6 million Foxton centre.
Council also made unauthorised payments of at least $980,000 to Lake Horowhenua Trust for projects championed by the Lake Accord widely recognised as being the brainchild of former mayor Brendan Duffy who is named deputy chair in the 2014-2016 Lake Accord strategy.
In total Lake Horowhenua Trust received $1.5 million from the Environment Ministry between 2014 and 2016 including $540,000 from the Fresh Start for Freshwater Fund and $980,000 from the Te Mana o Te Wai Fund for Lake Accord projects.
On 5 March this year the Maori Land Court in Levin heard former Lake Horowhenua Trust chair Matthew Sword say the trust “approached HDC about providing a cash flow” in advance of the $980,000 Te Mana o Te Wai Fund. Mr Sword is Lake Accord chair.
Mr Sword told the court the way it worked was as a “revolving ledger” where the Council would put money into a trust account and then, after a period of time, the “ledger would be reversed out to 0.”
Last November the court heard four subsidiary bank accounts set up by the trust and used by the Council to deposit the money into only avoided prosecution under anti-money laundering legislation because the trust’s primary account was opened before the legislation was introduced. The legislation requires the correct name of entities to be used on bank accounts.
Mr Sword chaired the trust until late last year when the appointment of all former trustees was quashed by the Maori Appellate Court due to a conflict of interest by Judge Doogan who made the appointments.
Lake Accord projects also received another $730,000 of ratepayer money from Horowhenua District Council and regional council ratepayers and “in-kind support” from the farming and agricultural sectors.
Lake Accord members include statutory bodies Horowhenua District Council, the Manawatu-Wanganui regional council Horizons, Lake Horowhenua Domain Board, the Conservation Department and Lake Horowhenua Trust. Meetings held by the Lake Accord are closed to the public.