More money down McCully’s Saudi bribe hole

The government continues to pour taxpayers’ money into the giant bribe hole in the Saudi desert that Murray MCCully created:

The government has spent a further $1.7 million on its controversial gift to a Saudi sheikh in the year since an Auditor-General’s probe of the deal was published – but the project remains unfinished.

Details obtained through the Official Information Act show the government has to date spent $10.3 million of its $11.5 million budget for an “agribusiness hub” and model farm in the Saudi desert, about 130km from the coastal town of Dammam.

The idea – hatched in 2013 by then-Foreign Minister Murray McCully – was to compensate Saudi Sheikh Hmood Al Ali Al Khalaf, whose grievance over New Zealand’s ban on live sheep exports was seen as a barrier to a free-trade deal with states in the Gulf Co-operation Council.

Last October a report by the Auditor General found that – although the deal did not amount to corruption – its benefits for New Zealand were unclear.

“I share many New Zealanders’ concerns about the arrangements,” said Auditor General Lyn Provost. “I found significant shortcomings in the paper put to the cabinet in support of the decision.”

At the time the government had spent $8.7 million on the project from an overall budget comprising $4 million on developing the business plan, $1.5 million on the purchase and airfreight of 900 ewes to Saudi Arabia, and $6 million on the agrihub itself.

The last money was to be spent by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise through a lead contract with Hastings firm Brownrigg Agriculture Group, 24.9% owned by interests associated with Sheikh Hmood.

The biggest budget item outstanding was $3.2 million for a new abattoir and the design and construction of a feedlot, of which only $489,460 had been spent when the Auditor General reported.

The latest information from the ministry shows the abattoir and feedlot spending has risen to $2.2 million, although the abattoir – to be designed and built as a kitset in New Zealand – is not finished.

The ministry said it had expected spending under the contract to be completed by now “but a delay in the Saudi partner securing all the approvals from the local Saudi authorities for construction of the abattoir has delayed spending on the final elements of the agrihub.”

Those regulatory issues appear to have been a problem for some time. In August last year NZTE told the NZ Herald the Saudi government had not provided a necessary permit for the abattoir.

“The permit application is with the Saudi government. We would expect construction to start once the permit is signed,” it said.

Where is the promised FTA?

Anyone know where Murray al-McCully is hiding at the moment?

 

-NBR

 


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