Technical issues blamed by QLDC’s Theelen for not releasing 'missing' $25m emails
The Queenstown Lakes District Council has blamed “technical issues” for today missing a deadline agreed to with the Chief Ombudsman for the release of emails under official information legislation.
The emails are expected to show who authorised an estimated $25 million of non-compliant expenditure on external consultants between 2016 and 2021.
A number of the consultants were former QLDC managers.
The council adopted a procurement policy in 2016 that was designed to deliver both financial transparency and value for money to local ratepayers. Crux has revealed that the council adopted the policy but then ignored it until a year after Crux first published in 2020 the results of our investigation into one of the consultants – ZQN7 Ltd.
ZQN7 Ltd was paid more than $600,000 for a routine bylaw review, but without any of the required competitive bid processes or a required business plan for avoiding the spending rules.
Subsequently council staff discovered in 2021 that the 2016 policy rules, if followed, would result in the council being unable to operate their day-to-day business, and it took an urgent meeting of elected councillors to re-write the policy.
Crux has worked with the Office of the Ombudsman for more than four years to push for access to emails and documents that would establish who knew about the non-compliant payments and how the council came to break its own rules for such an extended period of time.
The missing emails, either withheld by council staff, not searched for, or claimed to “not exist”, were due to be released by the close of business today, Thursday February 8.
Shortly after 5pm today Crux received an email from the executive assistant to council chief executive Mike Theelen. The email says the council's "sharing platform has encountered some technical issues that we are urgently looking into”.
“We are confident that we will be able to resolve the issue and send the response to you by tomorrow’s deadline.”
Crux has replied to Mr Theelen’s office, copied to the Office of the Ombudsman, pointing out that today (February 8) is the agreed deadline, not tomorrow, February 9.
It is unusual to receive emails from the chief executive's desk regarding official information requests.
These requests are dealt with by the council’s senior official information advisor Madeline Patterson, who confirmed the February 8 deadline to both Crux and the Ombudsman’s office on January 24.