How to make $8 million of ratepayers money disappear without a trace

Justin Lester has some explaining to do and not just about his activities on the ratepayer’s dime in Hong Kong.

It seems the council, under his chairing of a key committee, has managed to magic away $8million of ratepayer cash in a  corporate welfare payment to Singapore airlines…and all that exists in terms of paperwork is a Powerpoint presentation delivered after the deal was done…and a two page document that barely mentioned it.

A decision to subsidise Singapore Airlines new Wellington flights for the next decade saw virtually nothing put in writing.

Documents released by the Wellington City Council show that apart from a presentation made to councillors after the decision was made, the council generated a single two page document, which refers to the subsidy only in passing.

In January it was revealed that Wellington City Council chief executive Kevin Lavery had approved a subsidy for a new Singapore-Canberra-Wellington route from the Destination Wellington fund. The route launched on September 21.

The council has never disclosed the maximum Singapore Airlines, one of Asia’s largest airlines, could be paid, but documents suggest it could be $800,000 a year for 10 years.

This is outrageous. Who was responsible for this?

The Ombudsman, the authority appointed to monitor the official information disclosures of government agencies, has investigated the council on the information it released, and concluded that no other written documents exist.

The release suggests Lavery neither sent nor received a single piece of correspondence on the request, commissioned no analysis on Wellington Airport and Singapore Airlines’ claims about the route, or had any written contact with Singapore Airlines on the payment whatsoever.

On Monday Lavery and the council refused to comment on the subsidy or the decision making process behind it.

Justin Lester, who as deputy mayor was involved in the negotiations to bring Singapore Airlines to Wellington, defended the process, saying the spending was within Lavery’s authority.

“We gave them a pool of money to determine how it’s best spent in marketing Wellington,” Lester said, adding that he would be “highly surprised” if there was nothing else in writing.

Lester said Lavery’s approach to digital communication may be behind the lack of correspondence.

“He doesn’t send emails.”

Doesn’t do emails? Sack him. And Lester should go too.

No analysis, no correspondence, no business case?

If you are a ratepayer in Wellington you should be marching with pitchforks and blazing torches on City Hall.

This is an outrageous abuse of process, power, the ratepayers and the council.

There are now just too many questions raised about this shonky, secret deal that Lester was deeply involved in. Over $8 millions of ratepayer cash has gone. Given there is almost no evidence to speak of it raises serious further questions of why such a deal was approved with no documentation. This is what is called a sign of corruption. If the authorities were smart they’d start digging a little deeper. Who knows what might turn up.

Those responsible should be sacked or in Justin Lester’s case rinsed at the election.


– Fairfax

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