Shane Jones denies conflict of interest accusations

Putting Shane Jones in charge of a billion dollars a year of handouts through the Provincial Growth Fund was always going to be both a financial and a political risk.

And it was always going to be scrutinised by political opponents, especially with the amount of money being poured into Jones’ home province, Northland.

RNZ: Shane Jones denies conflict of interest in funding decision

Cabinet Minister Shane Jones is denying his role in a decision to fund a group from the regional growth fund is a conflict of interest.

Before he became minister Mr Jones was involved in plans to build Manea Footprints of Kupe, a culture heritage and education centre in Northland.

He declared a conflict of interest in the project when he became a Minister in November 2017.

But in February 2018 he attended a meeting of Ministers where he spoke about the project, providing reassurances about its management.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson then approved a $4.6 million grant, despite Treasury recommending it not go ahead.

Mr Jones said he gave only factual information at the meeting and was not otherwise involved in the decision.

National MP Paul Goldsmith…

…said the Prime Minister must demand answers from Mr Jones.

“If you’ve declared a conflict of interest you shouldn’t be in the room,” Mr Goldsmith said.

“He was in the room, responding to questions, we don’t know to what extent, and so he’s left himself wide open to perceived conflicts of interest and not doing things as they should be done.”

Act leader David Seymour…

…said the Prime Minister must sack Mr Jones over his involvement in the project.

Mr Seymour said it was “completely inappropriate” for Mr Jones to be involved in the meeting which decided to grant the project $4.6m.

In an answer to a Parliamentary question, Mr Jones said he had attended no formal meetings about the project since becoming a Minister.

He said Mr Jones’ misleading answer showed he is not fit for ministerial office and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has no choice but to sack him.

Stuff: Prime Minister rejects calls to sack Shane Jones, saying conflict was managed

Jacinda Ardern says she will not sack Shane Jones, after it was revealed the NZ First Minister took part in a key funding meeting for a project he had earlier declared a conflict of interest in.

Documents show Jones, the Regional Development Minister, sat in on a funding meeting where a group of Cabinet colleagues approved up to $4.6 million in funding from the Provincial Growth Fund, providing reassurances about the governance of the plan.

“Based on both the information and advice I’ve received, the conflict of interest was managed in accordance with the Cabinet Manual so therefore I would have no cause to sack Minister Jones”, the Prime Minister said in a statement.

Jones defended staying in the meeting in taking part, saying he had disclosed his interest, which satisfied is responsibilities, although he acknowledged there was a “school of thought” that would consider he should have left the meeting.

“I don’t believe my presence in any meeting with three other powerful ministers has any deterrent effect.”

He has dismissed documents from Manea’s proponents suggesting he was proposed to be the chairman of an entity to facilitate the project.

“I don’t care what the documents said, that was just wishful thinking on the part of the people of Hokianga.”

Act MP David Seymour called for Jones to be sacked as a minister and has written to the auditor-general asking for an investigation.

“Clare Curran was sacked for failing to disclose a meeting. Shane Jones has done exactly the same, the only difference being that Curran’s meeting had no consequence whereas Jones was decisive in $4.6 million of taxpayer money going to an organisation he’d previously been involved with,” Seymour said.

Jones will probably keep his job, for now at least, but these stories will keep nagging away at Government credibility and prudence in handing money out to Northland projects that he has had some connection to.