How ratepayers have been tapped for art junketing and electronic Christmas cards

The Point of Order Trough Monitor, alas, is limited to keeping an eye on spending and investment announcements from the Beehive. All sorts of squandering of our taxes pass beneath the radar.

The same goes for the wasteful use of our rates by local authorities.

But the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is able to do what our monitor can’t do and regularly reports on the findings of its surveillance.  

Headlines on the union’s press statements succinctly expose two examples  in recent days.

  • Waikato Regional Council spends $9,000 on electronic video Christmas cards  
  • Whangarei ratepayers charged $91,000 for art junket.

In the Christmas card case, according to the Taxpayers Union, the Waikato Regional Council last year sent out 177 electronic Christmas cards to political insiders – at cost of $9,341 (including GST and postage) or $53 per card.

The union was tipped off about the cards by one of the recipients, who was concerned about the extravagance of the ridiculous ‘gesture’.

According to the council, the cards were sent to 177

“ … leaders of central and local government organisations, Waikato’s ministers [sic] of parliament, and non-government organisations with which Waikato Regional Council works closely.”

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says,

“Investing this much time and money into a feel-good Christmas message for political insiders suggests the Regional Council is either overfunded, or has its priorities completely out of whack.”

“Fellow bureaucrats might have been impressed by the bells and whistles, but ratepayers will be wondering why the money wasn’t instead used for core services like water.”

“This was an unjustifiable indulgence, and the Regional Council needs to confirm it was a one-off.   A more ratepayer-friendly option would have been to visit The Warehouse, which is selling 10-packs of Christmas cards for 47 cents.”

The full official information response can be viewed  HERE.

Further north, the Taxpayers Union has revealed that the Whangarei Arts Museum Trust spent $91,168 – including business class flights to Dubai – for 11 people to visit Vienna and see a Hundertwasser painting.

Taxpayers’ Union researcher Tabitha Lorck says:

“In total, Whangarei Art Museum Trust – a Council CCO – spent $71,308 flying 11 people return to Vienna via Auckland, and $19,860 was spent on accommodation.”

“Whangarei Council’s purpose for the trip was to ‘gain an insight of what is involved in the realisation of a Hundertwasser creation and construction, and to strengthen relationships with our partners abroad.’ If this was a simple fact-finding mission why were 11 people required and why did they travel business class? Better to call it what it is, a junket.”

“Councils should be focused on core services – like roads, water, and rubbish – not international art trips for 11 people. Whangarei ratepayers deserve better.”

The full official information response is available HERE.

Stuff has picked up on the Christmas card story, reporting that the Waikato Regional Council is defending the spending of $53 a pop on video Christmas cards to bring festive cheer to their political peers.

Stuff says the video tablet inside contained three videos, including a highlights package of a stakeholder event, a Christmas message from the council’s chief executive and chairman and a clip from a  separate long term campaign aimed at explaining to the public the council’s contribution to the region.

 Chief Executive Vaughan Payne told Stuff the cards came well within the council’s communications budget which and were comparative to using traditional media. 

“We chose the card as there is quite a depth of information on the card not just about council, but what is necessary for the Waikato region to be successful, and we’ve believed the card was an effective way to get to our key stakeholders in an innovative way. 

“Using traditional media wouldn’t be as effective and would probably be more expensive. 

“For example, one full page advert in the Waikato Times is about the same as what we spent on the video cards. And in community papers, you are looking at $2000 to $3000 for full page adverts as well.”

Payne said the council does a lot of important work for the community including work around environmental restoration and natural hazards. 

“So we need to get the buy-in of our key stakeholders and the support of our key stakeholders to do what we do. Because we’ve got limited funds and the more we can get others to buy in and support our work the better, so ratepayers dollar can go further.” 

Ratepayers will be thrilled to learn that – according to Payne – the feedback had been positive from an influential stakeholder in Wellington and another in Bay of Plenty.

The NZ Herald website says those behind the Hundertwasser Art Centre project have defended the research trip to Vienna for 11 people which cost just over $90,000.

Spokesman Greg Hay said the group included key personnel from the Hundertwasser Art Centre project – two from project management, four from the lead contractor, including two tilers and plasterers, as well as site manager and foreman, videographer, Hundertwasser Foundation NZ representative and a WAMT representative.

But this a “premium content” article.   To continue reading, you must pay.  

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