Politics | Peeni Henare

National wants review of contracts awarded to firm run by partner of Peeni Henare

National has asked the Public Service Commissioner to investigate the handling of government contracts with a company run by cabinet minister Peeni Henare’s partner, Skye Kimura.

National had previously revealed the consultancy Tātou - where Kimura was until recently chief executive - had been awarded multiple government contracts totalling around $600,000 over the past two years.

About $250,000 came from work for the Ministry of Health, while Henare was Associate Minister of Health.

National public service spokesperson Simeon Brown on Wednesday wrote to Commissioner Peter Hughes, requesting he review all relevant contracts to ensure appropriate management of conflicts of interest.

“Conflicts of interest, whether actual, perceived or potential, can severely undermine the integrity of the public service,” the letter said.

“In this particular case, the issue is not the existence of conflicts but whether each of the contractual arrangements entered that involve Tātou have been managed appropriately at a department level due to the nature of the relationships that exist between the firm and the minister.”

Henare disclosed his partner’s business interests to the Cabinet Office in 2018 and agreed not to be involved in any decisions regarding contracts with her agency.

In response to questions from RNZ, the Ministry of Health said it was satisfied “overall” it had followed all rules and policies, and it confirmed Henare had had no involvement.

A ministry spokesperson said, however, that Tātou did not declare any conflict of interest and no internal management plan was put in place.

“There is a standard clause in the ministry’s contracts that requires contracted parties to declare any conflicts of interest - potential or perceived.

“No conflict was raised.”

In a statement, Kimura told RNZ she was no longer employed by Tātou after making her “own personal choice” to leave.

“I have always declared my interests with the Ministry of Health and Te Whatu Ora, including my relationship with Peeni Henare.

“I have no further comment. All future correspondence will be via my lawyer.”

A spokesperson for Tātou declined to make any comment, instead referring all questions to Kimura.

Public Service Commission guidelines to agencies for managing conflicts - issued in March - stress the importance of considering contractors’ relationships with senior leaders and ministers.

“If a conflict of interest is identified that relates to a minister, the matter should be escalated to, and managed by, the agency chief executive in a timely way,” the guidance states.

The Ministry of Health spokesperson told RNZ it was confident Kimura’s relationship with Henare had “no bearing” on the contract decisions.

“Government ministers are not party to the ministry’s operations and do not influence ministry procurement processes.

“The ministry takes care, as a matter of course, to ensure that only appropriate staff are party to any contract it enters into. There was no relationship between the ministry and Tātou staff which may have unduly influenced the procurement process.

“Overall, the ministry is satisfied that we followed the necessary rules and policies relating to contracts. The work Tātou has completed for us to date has been of a good standard and has met contractual requirements.”

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office reiterated Henare had declared Kimura’s business interests, kept them updated, and had no involvement in any of the contracts being awarded.

“As part of the management plan, he agreed that he will not be involved in any decisions regarding awarding a contract to his partner or her agency, and will not suggest Tātou as a possible service provider to agencies over which he has responsibility.

“Ministers’ partners and family members are allowed to bid for government contracts - there is no rule that prohibits that.”

Tātou was contracted by the Health Ministry to provide design work for two key projects over the past two years: Smokefree 2025 and the Tātai programme, which collects data on Māori iwi affiliation.

A ministry evaluation panel selected Tātou to carry out the Smokefree work as part of a standard tender process. All panelists signed forms stating they had no relationship with Tātou.

No tender process was undertaken for the Tātai work as the “series of smaller contracts” were all below the $100,000 threshold which requires that.

The public service commissioner last year investigated complaints of conflict of interest at four public agencies relating to family members of cabinet minister Nanaia Mahuta.

The review found “no evidence of favouritism, bias, or undue influence” but roundly criticised the agencies’ management of potential or perceived conflicts.

Te Puni Kōkiri and the Ministry for the Environment did not follow “sound agency policies and processes” and failed to properly identify and manage perceived conflicts, Kāinga Ora did not ask about conflicts during the contracting process, and the Conservation Department’s contract management was poor, the review found.