Sunday, 10 March 2019

PM must sack Shane Jones over Manea project

Revelations that Shane Jones helped provide millions to a project he was once poised to chair and failed to disclose a key ministerial meeting about the project mean the Prime Minister has no choice but to sack him, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

The Manea Footprints of Kupe Cultural Heritage and Education Centre was granted $4.6 million through the Provincial Growth Fund in February 2018. The announcement was made by Kelvin Davis because Shane Jones had declared a conflict of interest to the Cabinet Office and asked his colleagues to make a decision on the application because he wanted to ‘maintain distance’ from it.

According to Stuff, documents sent by Manea to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in 2014 to apply for funding through the Tourism Growth Partnership reveal what that conflict of interest was: Jones was to be chairman of the project.

Despite this clear conflict of interest, and Jones declaring he would have nothing to do with Manea’s Provincial Growth Fund application, he attended a key ministerial meeting in February 2018 in which Manea’s application was decided. Jones persuaded the Finance Minister – a joint decision-maker on the application – to approve the funding.

An email obtained by ACT shows Jones attended the meeting with Grant Robertson, Phil Twyford and David Parker in which Manea’s application was discussed. In that meeting, Jones advocated for the project.

According to the email, sent by an MBIE official five days after the meeting, Jones’ comments in the meeting were crucial in the Finance Minister’s decision to grant $4.6 million to Manea. Grant Robertson had concerns about the project, but after speaking with Jones he was persuaded to approve the funding.

The email notes: ‘Minister Robertson raised his concerns about the broader management and commercial operations of the project. Minister Jones provided reassurance that as the project has Far North Holding Ltd, the commercial arm of the Far North District Council, involved in its governance structures, he was comfortable their presence would alleviate any concerns on the issue. Minister Robertson was comfortable to sign the briefing knowing this mitigation was in place.’

“Shane Jones not only involved himself in an application in relation to which he had a conflict of interest, he also concealed this key meeting in answer to a written parliamentary question, says Mr Seymour.

In April 2018, Jones was asked whether he ever attended a meeting in relation to the project. He replied: ‘I have had no formal meetings regarding the Manea Footprints of Kupe project since receiving my ministerial warrants.’

“This was clearly not true.

“Given he was to be the project’s chairman, Shane Jones has a clear conflict of interest in relation to Manea. The Cabinet Manual requires that he recuse himself from all discussions and decision-making in relation to the project. It is deeply concerning that he would intervene when it was completely inappropriate for him to do so.

“Manea failed to obtain funding under the previous government but was allocated money in the very first tranche of Provincial Growth Fund announcements. Jones’ intervention on behalf of a project he was once involved with was crucial.

“The Minister’s misleading answer to a parliamentary question when asked if he had attended a meeting about the Manea project shows he is not fit for ministerial office.

“Shane Jones has failed to conduct himself in a manner appropriate for a Minister of the Crown. The Prime Minister has no choice but to sack him.”