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TPK head criticised for poor judgment with jobcuts looming

Tuesday 14 Feb 2012 9:05 p.m.

By Duncan Garner

The head of the Ministry of Maori Development, Te Puni Kokiri, has been forced to pay back money he spent taking his wife to a number of flashy events.

The government said some of Leith Comer's spending did not pass the judgement test.

But the Minister of Maori Affairs, Pita Sharples, is defending him saying because he is Maori, that makes him different.

Mr Comer has been in charge of Te Puni Kokiri since 2001.

He gets paid $400,000 a year, or, $7,692 dollars each and every week.

He is under fire for spending too much money; not his money but taxpayers' money.

State Services Minister Jonathan Coleman says it is up to Mr Comer to explain how he would justify this spending
“at a time when TPK are looking at redundancies”.

Mr Comer is currently axing 50 jobs in his own department to save money.

That did not stop him taking his wife to the style Pasifika Festival in Auckland and the Maori Sports Awards last year.

The taxpayer forked $1071 for hosting and return airfares.

There are no hard and fast rules on spousal travel. It is a judgement issue and it is clear he has failed.

“The question is about judgement and on the face of it I have concerns,” says Mr Coleman.

Mr Comer’s minister is defending him on cultural grounds because he is Maori.

“In the Maori world you have to turn up with your wife when you're hosting other guests with their wives,” says Mr Sharples.

So how is this for Mr Comer's judgement then?

He also took the wife to the Opera in the Pa in Rotorua last year costing taxpayers a further $1008 in airfares, $90 on the rental car and $404.20 on accommodation in Rotorua.

The State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie who is Mr Comer's boss was today summoned to the Beehive to sort it out.

“Mr Rennie needs to get a full explanation from Mr Comer about this spending,” says Mr Coleman.

Late today Mr Comer decided the best explanation was to hoist the white flag and pay the money back; a sure sign that his spending did not pass the test and it was poor judgement. 

He may also face a further censure and could lose some of his performance bonus which he is eligible for every year. But of course, he keeps his $400,000-a-year job and now he must decide which workers will lose their jobs.

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